Ch8 Pt4 Jugend Aliyah, the kibbutz, and the ATS.

Irena was transferred in 1939 to the newly founded settlement of Beit Ha’aravah – “The House in the Desert” — on the shores of the Dead Sea. The only other outpost of civilisation in this wilderness where the Bedouin roamed was the Potash Company premises. The sandy desert road from Jerusalem led past the Potash Company for two or three miles to the newly established kibbutz of Beit Ha’aravah. Here, in the hottest part of the Middle East, in a landscape of unbelievable aridity and unrelieved mournfulness, young men and young women were attempting to work valuable potash deposits and establish agriculture.

There were no longterm buildings at the kibbutz as there had been at Ashtoth Yakov. Here everybody lived in tents and permanent huts were a long way off, for each kibbutz was charged to become self-supporting in the quickest time possible. The interiors of the tents at Beit Ha’aravah were carefully looked after by the kibbutzniks and soon, with floorboards, home made cupboards, chests of drawers, all sorts of decorations, and partitions in the larger tents, they began to resemble real homes inside. To the outside eye they were nothing but huddles of canvass. 

Everything was done on a communal basis. The work was hard and mostly manual. There was little attention paid to the segregation of the sexes. Clean clothes were drawn from the communal laundry once a week. If they fitted, that was good. If they didn’t fit, one made do as best one could. The single object of the kibbutz at this time was survival. Night attacks by hostile Arabs were frequent. As little reliance could be placed on the Palestine Police, who would normally always have arrived too late to prevent a massacre, the “pioneers”, after a day of back-breaking toil, stood guard around their settlement. Irena took her turn on these guard duties, her rifle held tensely, her ears alert for the slightest sound, eyes strained for the tiniest movement. 

At first the kibbutz could not afford a watchtower and searchlight. Therefore exchanges with marauding Arabs often became a hit and miss explosion of rifles into the surrounding darkness. Despite the apparently disorganised nature of these encounters, the kibbutzniks sustained fatalities and casualties from wounds. This was the common pattern amongst kibbutzim all over Palestine at this time as rifles crackled at night and searchlights installed in the watchtowers quested around in the darkness for advancing Arabs.

Death at other times came unannounced, and with frightening suddenness. One day Irena was fishing in the River Jordan with a sixteen years old youth who was well known for his habit of whistling Strauss waltzes. They knew each other well, for they had escaped from Germany on the same refugee train. Suddenly a shot was fired from the bushes on the opposite bank and Irena’s companion fell dead. Terrified, she ran all the way back to the kibbutz, zigzagging in case the unseen assassin should draw a bead on her.

At night the closest guard of all was maintained around the crèche where the babies slept. For these Israeli-born “Sabras” were the country’s most valuable immigrants. Palestine – or preferably Israel – would be their country and their home. The ancient Hebrew speech, the language in which the Bible was written, would be their native tongue. Knowing nothing of anti-Semitism these young Jews – from the blue eyed blonds of northern Europe to the brown eyed olive skinned people of the Yemen – would face the world completely confident of themselves, unashamed of either their religion or their origin, bowing their heads to nobody.

On the outbreak of war in 1939, all the kibbutzim called for volunteers to join the army and fight against the Axis powers. The response was enthusiastic and many thousands of young men and women flocked to join the British forces. Irena was still too young to volunteer, and stayed at her kibbutz. However, towards the end of 1942 she could no longer put up with the long hours of labour, the continual denial of self, the lack of personal possessions extending even to the clothes which one wore and exchanged at the communal laundry every week. She had worked for no wages for over four years to advance agriculture in the Jewish homeland. Four years’ unpaid labour was enough! 

Here, in 1943, some months prior to her twenty first birthday, she volunteered for the British Army and became a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service — ATS for short. In her army paybook her nationality was noted as “Russian”, the reasoning being that if by some mischance Hitler won the war, or Rommel with his Afrika Korps panzer divisions swept through from Egypt to Palestine, any person in the British Army shown as a German national would immediately be shot for treason. With most of her family exterminated in concentration camps by the Nazis, there was no way Irena felt she was committing treason. Rather she was pleased to be of help in paying back in their own coin those responsible for the cold blooded murder of countless innocents whose only crime was that their ancestors had professed the wrong religion.

She signed up at Sarafand Cantonnement, where she underwent a short period of training. She was then sent to Egypt, where she worked in a munitions dump at Tura, an Arab village just outside Cairo. Subsequently she served briefly in Italy, then in Egypt and Palestine as an interpreter.

During the war she had learnt that her mother Berta had escaped to England and remarried, a London furrier. In 1945 Irena was allowed to take 28 days’ leave in England on compassionate grounds, for she had not seen her mother for eight years. Berta’s new husband pulled as many strings as he could when Irena arrived, and she was demobilised in London, once again on compassionate grounds.

I met Irena at her bed-sitter in North West London about a year after this happened. 

Ch8 Pt3 Escape from Berlin to Haifa

As far as the Rüdigers were concerned, they looked with concern at the future of the little girl in their charge in an increasingly military, racist and anti-Semitic Germany. Irena was also aware of the changes going on about her. Jews were forbidden by notice to sit on public benches, so-called “Aryan” Germans were forbidden to patronise Jewish businesses under threat of severe penalties, and there were always secret police on the lookout for offenders. Julius Streicher’s Der Stűrmer churned out the vilest and crudest of newspaper libels against the Jews. Thanks to unceasing insults and propaganda Hitler’s mania seemed to have communicated itself to the entire nation.

One day Irena came across two boys who were tormenting an old orthodox Jew by pulling his beard. She picked up some stones, threw them at the boys and bluffed them into moving on. It may have been at this time that she finally decided to quit Germany for good and go to Palestine. She always said that she smelt something dangerous and unhealthy in the air. She might have been fourteen or fifteen years old when she made this decision.

During the years following the end of the First World War, the interest in Palestine of European Jewry had been greatly stimulated. This revival of interest was due mainly to three factors. In the first place, the vast upheaval of peoples occasioned by the war had brought Western European Jews face to face with their eastern co-religionists who were in closer contact with the Holy Land. Secondly, European Jews began to have forebodings of new pogroms, especially in Germany as Hitler rose to power. The walls of the ghetto were down, but the new freedom did not necessarily spell security for the Jew. Finally, there was the Balfour Declaration, by which Great Britain gave her support to the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jews. There had been small Jewish settlements in Palestine since biblical days, but it was at the end of the nineteenth century, during the lifetime of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, that serious if sometimes unsuccessful attempts were made by communities of Jews to return to Palestine and settle there. At the conclusion of the First World War, the Balfour Declaration coupled with the lifting of the Turkish yoke now gave a basis for the realisation of Herzl’s ideas.

In the Germany of the nineteen twenties, as anti-Jewish feeling increased, a movement known as the Jugend Aliyah came into existence through which Jewish children were to be trained for settlement in Palestine. “Jugend” was the German word for “Youth” and “Aliyah” was the Hebrew word for “migration”. Members of the “Youth Migration” movements were sent for varying periods to farm schools in their native countries. They lived in “kibbutzim” or settlements in conditions that tried to simulate those they would find in Palestine. Here they were taught the elements of Hebrew, a dead language which was being revived and which is today the living, universal language of the people of the State of Israel. These Jewish children were carefully watched during their stay at farm schools, for immigration certificates to Palestine granted by the British authorities were limited. Therefore only the best could qualify for them and the Hebrew title of “Halutzim”, or “Pioneers”. The emphasis was on manual work and all-Hebrew speech. By manual work the Jews would redeem themselves and the soil of Palestine. By the use of Hebrew and the renunciation of bastard Yiddish and Ladino they would be truly recreating the spirit of the biblical ancients.

It was to one of these schools that Irena now went, taking tearful leave of Uncle Heinrich and Auntie Netti, and of Oma and Opa Rüdiger, who had been almost like real parents to her. Her mother put no obstacle in her way and appears at times to have been almost indifferent as to where this new step might be leading her daughter. Despite this, her final acquiescence, which still seems to be shrouded in a certain mystery, was to save her daughter’s life. 

In the autumn of 1938 Irena, 15 years old, obsessed by the idea of going to Palestine, and studying Hebrew earnestly, learnt that she was to board a train carrying Jewish children out of Germany. She had made her own arrangements to obtain a passport stamped “Palästinawanderer” after wrangling her mother’s consent. Although differences of opinion were opening between them, the mother did not want her young daughter to leave Germany. Irena had been in hospital with a lung infection and told her mother that she was signing a release form. The mother, her mind occupied as usual by business matters, signed without thinking. Irena also tried to persuade her brother Heini to emigrate with her, but he declined and thereby tragically and unwittingly signed his death warrant. The great Berlin railway station was crowded with parents saying tearful goodbyes to children carrying lunch baskets and spare clothes. But Irena’s mother was not there to see her off. It was a disappointment etched into Irena’s mind. Thus she quit the land of her birth. 

She was only just in time.       

Suddenly the embers of racial and religious prejudice and violence, fanned so assiduously by the Nazis, burst into flame. Anti-Jewish demonstrations broke out everywhere, and the exodus of Jewish children to Palestine was stopped. By lying propaganda, by offering the traditional Jewish scapegoat as the cause of all Germany’s misfortunes, and by appealing to the basest of human instincts Hitler was propelled to the pinnacle of his power. The long-suffering Jews took the first steps on a seemingly unending path of tears to European concentration camps. And the civilised nations who did not want to know about the butchery beginning in the Third Reich found themselves hurtling towards the most destructive war in the history of mankind.

At a later date gentle Uncle Heinrich and Auntie Netti were to find death in one of those concentration camps so aptly called by the Nazis “Vernichtungslager” – “Vernichtung” meaning quite literally “reduction to nothingness. 

After Irena had left Germany the Nazis one night smashed their way into the house where her brother lived and sent him to a concentration camp. Heini, a sixteen years old boy, must have wondered why he was so ill treated, for he had broken no law and harmed nobody. His mother, awake at last to the danger, fled to England, where she frantically canvassed a number of her relatives who had settled there to raise enough money to ransom her son. But she was unsuccessful. And then, with a finality which put paid to all her efforts, Germany invaded Poland. Within twenty four hours England had declared war on Germany and all avenues of communication were cut.

Heini Schreiber disappeared from the face of the earth. He became one of the six million victims of the Holocaust and one of the forty million dead from all sides in World War Two.

Irena had escaped to Palestine on one of the last refugee trains to leave Germany. She travelled by way of Italy, where she took ship across the Mediterranean. The crew was Italian and there were many adult passengers aboard. But the youthful refugees formed a large proportion of the travellers.

Although they were little more than children the young emigrants were unnaturally subdued. Only a few weeks before, they had been looked after by parents and relatives. Now, very suddenly, they had to look after themselves and, perhaps, after each other. Without being able to put their feelings into words they knew that they would be without family for a very long time. They knew also that their parents and loved ones in Germany were in great peril. As if this was not enough they were going to a strange country of which they knew nothing. And all the time they were trying to cope with a new and difficult language. This was Hebrew, whose Semitic words, grammar and writing had nothing in common with their native German. 

After ploughing through the blue and mostly calm Mediterranean the ship berthed at Haifa. Irena felt little joy and some trepidation when she first set eyes on the continental-style cafés along busy Kingsway, the picturesque but run-down Arab quarter, and the white, flat-roofed houses climbing up Mount Carmel. In any event, her stay in Haifa was brief. Almost immediately she was whisked away to the long-established kibbutz of Ashtoth Yakov, some miles out of the city. Here the only language spoken was Hebrew. Even though it was understood German was met with a stony stare, so the newcomers had no option but to learn the language. Older kibbutzniks were intermixed with them to teach them agriculture and accustom their ears to the new tongue. 

The trickle of mail from Germany stopped with the advent of the war. The new arrivals felt like total orphans. This was what most of them were shortly to become.

CH8 Pt1 Meeting Irena

After I had been back in London four days, I took the tube train across the city to Willesden to look up Iris’ friend, Miss Irena S. I did it from a sense of duty without any great enthusiasm. I was back in civvy street, still on leave, trying to find my bearings. But I felt like a fish out of water and I was very unsettled and unhappy. Much as I had detested the army, I could not see how I would ever settle down to a civilian job in London. The very paving stones shrieked to me of the days I had spent walking them when I was a poverty-stricken boy. The aftermath of war did not promise any greater prosperity. Taxes were high, everything was enormously expensive, while wages were low. I began to see more years of dismal struggle ahead. Had we all been through the war for nothing beyond this? How was I to find some avenue of progress?

I came to Willesden at lunchtime, and knocked at the door of a suburban house. It was opened by a spectacled, middle-aged woman.

“Irena?”

“Certainly.”

“Irena!” she screams up the stairs, and in a few moments Irena comes clattering down. She is in her early twenties, straight-haired and long, fine features in which I can somehow sense her Polish ancestry. I notice that she has a very good figure. She addresses me in excellent English with a faint accent that I found difficult to place.

“Good afternoon. What can I do for you?”

“I’m from Iris. I’ve just returned from Palestine.”

“Oh, yes. I received a letter from her a short time ago. How is she?”

“She’s in good health, and sends her best regards.”

And so on and so on, until Miss Irena suddenly says, “I have to go to work now. This is my lunch hour. Couldn’t we meet tonight and talk?”

Meet and talk? The whole night long? Oh, but I can’t. I am absolutely browned off and fed up, and the last thing I want to do is make polite conversation with Iris’s friend. Anyway, the girl is Jewish. So it’ll be a platonic emotionless exercise from the start, because Jewish girls don’t go for goyim. I just couldn’t stand up to such frigidly polite protracted make-believe in my present poisonous mood.

“You can’t make it?” Miss Irena is saying. “Why? Have you got a date?”

I can see that she is prepared to argue the toss, but before I can stop the words, I have admitted that I haven’t got a date.”

“I haven’t got a date either,” says Miss Irena. “So I’ll meet you outside the underground station at six.”

She gets ready for work, and I take a train back to the west end. Miss Irena is apparently a forceful character with a way of handling things. Oh, well, I suppose if I’m with somebody else it’ll leave less time for introspection.

At six o’clock a train from the west end redeposits me at Willesden where Miss Irena, with her hair newly set and her nose daintily powdered is waiting for me. Where shall we go? Back to the west end, of course, decides Miss S, and I agree with that, because that’s where the magic of London resides. So back we go, and I begin to think that maybe it’s not so bad. I’ve been out of the army four days, and it looks as if I’ve already got myself a girl friend. We spend the evening arm in arm walking through the cool London night, listening to the never ceasing rumble of the traffic, and talking interminably.

Near Victoria Station, on the way to Westminster, Miss Irena suddenly discovers that her high-heeled shoe is pinching, and stands on one leg to adjust it. By God, what lovely slim ankles and shapely calves she’s got. I really like that in a woman! As she adjusts her shoe, she leans on me for support. Hmm! A figure as slender as a reed, but as feminine as the Venus de Milo. I like that too!

The cool breeze lightly touches our faces. It is October, and the northern winter will soon be with us. The traffic rumbles. The twinkling lights of the great city are echoed by the twinkling stars in the cloudless night sky above. Later, as we approach the Houses of Parliament, Miss Irena feels tired, so we sit on a bench near the statue of Abraham Lincoln. Later still, Miss S remarks that it is turning rather cold, and moves closer to me for warmth. I put an arm around her, in a fatherly, protective fashion. But somehow this seems inadequate. And finally, beneath the yellow, illuminated moon face of Big Ben, I find myself kissing Miss Irena with unrestrained and very unfatherly enthusiasm. She is wearing a ruby red lipstick that tastes as sweet as sugared strawberries. By gee, I like that in a woman!

All good things come to an end. As we rise to go, Irena says, “The very first moment I saw you I knew you were the man I was going to marry.”

I seem suddenly to have jumped six feet in the air. Whoa!! Hold your horses, Sis! We were just having a matey smooch. A simple kiss between friends. Nothing more.

Shut your noise, Foxon, and save your breath. You have just had your first experience of the steel trap Irena mind. You clearly don’t know it yet, but Miss Irena has already crossed her Rubicon, and that means that you’ve also crossed yours.

I capitulated shortly afterwards, and we were married in April, 1947, at the Willesden Registry Office in north London. This was the last day of the income tax year, and I got a taxation rebate for supporting a wife for the whole of the preceding twelve months. Irene and I were equally happy about such a good bit of business. Several years later, when my brother got married, he worked it the same way. Nobody in our family likes paying taxes.

Irena had been in England just over a year when I met her. On arrival in the country, although she had picked up a great deal of English in the Middle East, her grasp of the language was still not perfect. German was her native language, Hebrew was still her second language, and English number three on the list. However, she insisted, as always, on speaking only the language of the country she was in. As a result of this, at the time of our meeting, her English was fluent, apart from minor errors such as saying “mit” for “with”, or ……..”putting a spook in his wheel,” or …….”screaming like a horse on fire…….”

“Like a house on fire, darling, not a horse on fire.”

“But why not? A horse would scream if it was on fire, wouldn’t it?”

How can you beat feminine logic?

Irene was born in Berlin of Russian-Polish parents. Her grandfather on her mother’s side was a Polish rabbi from Cracow. He studied Torah and Talmud, preserved the Faith amongst his congregation, and sought with reverence to obey the will of the Master of the Universe. Later the family moved to Berlin where Irene’s brother Heini was born, followed soon after by Irena. Her father was a fine-featured man whose face clearly showed sensitivity and intelligence. He had been an officer in the Russian army during the war. He adored his small daughter, and lavished kindness and affection on her. He liked to go to boxing matches, and whenever he did so, took Irena with him. She loved her father above every other person in the world. On Irena’s birth certificate, her father’s profession is shown as “Kaufmann” – buyer.” The whole family was engaged in the garment trade, mostly in the sale of dresses in shops. They seem to have led a reasonably prosperous and happy life in Berlin, where they apparently had relatives, until the sudden death of Adolf S when his daughter Irena was seven years old. He had seen the rise of Hitler’s Brownshirts and survived the ruinous period of monetary inflation after the First World War. Mercifully he did not see Hitler’s final accession to power in 1932; neither did he have to suffer the terror, heartbreak and foul murder of the holocaust.

But to Irena the death of her beloved father was a terrible blow, which all but broke her heart.

Irena’s mother, Berta, was a strong-minded, attractive woman, who came originally from Cracow in Poland. She spoke Polish, Russian, Yiddish and German. When she came to London in her early forties, she added English to her list of linguistic accomplishments. She might never have passed a degree in a University, but she never failed to know what was going on in any of her several languages, neither did she ever fail to make her point of view known to other people, no matter how fractured her grammar might be. She was a strongly built woman, but was always carefully corseted. If one applied the description “handsome” to her, it would be appropriate. She had very fine features, not a bit like the “Jewish” features of popular imagination. She dyed her dark hair blonde, and piled it artistically on top of her head. She looked exactly like one of Hitler’s fantasy “Aryan” maidens. The notices forbidding Jews to sit on certain seats or to enter certain public places never bothered her. She treated them with the contempt she so rightly thought they deserved. Her own mother, Esther, continued to live in Cracow in Poland, and Irena’s mother never failed to visit the old lady regularly and to look after her, even though, with the approach of the second world war she began to risk her life in so doing.

On September 1st, 1939, Germany attacked Poland, and on September 3rd Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. With the German forces nearing Warsaw, the Soviet Union also attacked Poland. On September 28th, with most Polish resistance suppressed, Hitler and Stalin signed an agreement dividing Poland between them. Germany took the western and central part of the country, including Warsaw and Cracow. The Germans treated Poland with the utmost brutality, exterminating the educated class and more than 3 million Jews. Bearing this in mind one can only make the most pessimistic assumptions regarding the fate of “Grandma Esther” 

Ch7 Pt4 Farewell Palestine and the Army.

I only recall one event that was at all remarkable. A few of the officers got the idea that somebody was tunnelling underneath their quarters, so they invaded the billets of us underlings and took up residence with us for a while. Nothing came of it. A few bepipped gentlemen had been taking too little water with their Scotch, and must have been hallucinating. There were definitely no terrorist sappers trying to blow up our beloved officers.

Here are a few lines written at the time to my old friend George Mills, quoted verbatim, because there is no better way to recall the thoughts that were going through my mind at the end of my army service.

Dear George – Just a few egotistical lines because my head is full of words. Today is, truly speaking, my last day in the army. Tomorrow I am going to Haifa to follow a course. I am going to brush up my French – can you imagine that? Of course, it is an excuse to spend a few days in Haifa. I am told that I shall in all probability be recalled before the course finishes, and sent to Sidi Bishr, near Alexandria. There I shall catch the boat for Toulon. At our camp today the lads are going on a route march, but I shall not take part in it. I shall watch them struggle into their kit, and I shall smile to myself and feel very satisfied, for this kind of thing is finished for me. In England I shall exchange my uniform for a civvy suit, and then I shall be my own person again amidst several million others. My apologies for ‘le moi haissable’. But adult peacetime civilian life is something I have never known. I was only nineteen when I joined the army, and very inexperienced. I hope I shall be able to cope. The army is a prison. But as in all prisons, you never starve, and you always have a roof over your head. In civvy street you have to struggle for those things.

The weather is extremely fine today. The sun is shining, and at only nine in the morning I am sweating like a little bull. For the next six weeks the future is all mapped out. I know exactly where I’m going, and the prospect pleases me. After that …….Question mark ! What shall I do when I return to London, when I become once again a small insect striving to maintain himself on the human ant heap? Does it matter that much? All our worries, our battles, our achievements will be insignificant a hundred years from now ..….”

On the 24th August, I left the camp on my way to Haifa. There were nine of us in two jeeps, each of which was pulling a small trailer on which our kit was stacked. After being shut up for so many weeks it was good to drive through the countryside, sandy and arid, but dotted with odd desert plants and with the occasional incipient greenery of young citrus plantations.          

Haifa is a beautiful, sun-drenched city, beginning at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, then climbing up the slope of magnificent Mount Carmel. One has the impression of tiers of seats about an arena. The arena is the Mediterranean, dotted with boats, and the tiers are rows upon rows of square white houses. From the upper slopes of Mount Carmel one does not distinguish the white-capped waves below – one merely sees a vast blue expanse, and one has the impression of being able to step out immediately from wherever one is, and walk upon the sea.

The motor buses climb with difficulty the steep slopes found everywhere. They are single-decker vehicles, and the entrance is next to the driver, who collects the fares and distributes tickets before the passengers take their places. The engines of these buses strain agonisingly as they climb the hilly gradients, but the inhabitants of Haifa do not bother – they are used to the sensation that their conveyance is at any moment likely to run backwards down Mount Carmel.

The Arab quarter, which was supposed to be out of bounds to military personnel, was at the docks end of the town, and was chiefly composed of shops facing each other across narrow alleys. Here one found the inevitable bistros where a radio moaned Arab love songs and the atmosphere inevitably stank. In the streets accessible to motor traffic, one frequently saw armoured cars with machine guns poking from their turrets. Sometimes one would come across convicts in brown uniforms working under the surveillance of an Arab member of the Palestine Police, looking like a Cossack in his tall, black woollen hat. Modern Haifa, we found, was very clean and attractive. In the boulevards, on the terraces of the cafés, people sat drinking coffee or orange juice, this latter seeming to be the national beverage, and talking nineteen to the dozen in many languages although, of course, Hebrew predominated. Incidentally, we noticed that the residents of Haifa suffered from the same delusion as those of Cairo, namely that the English soldier existed solely on a diet of beer, fried eggs and chips. Clothes were plentiful – I noticed this particularly, after the rationing situation in England. But they were very expensive. I paid two pounds for a cotton shirt of very poor finish, whilst one could not get even a mediocre pair of trousers for under four pounds. Jackets followed the same price trends, and one came to realise that when one saw a well-dressed man, one was looking at a walking fortune.

Towards the end of my course at Haifa, I met a young ATS private who was studying music. She was an Algerian Jewess. She had good intelligence, but although at first I did not consider her pretty, she was “très sympathique”. Of course, we spoke French together. Iris was trim and smart, and as I took more notice I began to get a very favourable impression. She took good care of her jet coloured hair, and she had long eyelashes that reminded me of black silk. Her eyes were large and dark brown, and I made myself believe that I could read her thoughts in them. I began to like her a great deal.

We dined together one night in a restaurant in a suburb of Haifa, half way up Mount Carmel, and while we were waiting for the bus to take us back to camp, I somehow started to tell her about my recollections of our poverty in London. She listened with sympathy, and suddenly put her hand on mine.

“…….Mon Cher ami ……….”

The tutoiement mounted to my lips. How is it possible to explain that delicious familiar form of speech, which, in French, enables one to express so exquisitely kindness and gentleness to those who are near and dear? This form does not exist in English, and to me, when one wishes to express tenderness, its absence makes our language seem so harsh.

At that moment the bus came. I helped her in, and we returned to camp. When we arrived there, we sat down outside the canteen in darkness, and talked until long past midnight. I was conscious that I was to leave the following day.

On the morrow, a jeep called for me at midday. Iris and I were talking in the library. Hurriedly I left her to bundle my kit into the jeep’s trailer. Then I came back to her. We touched hands for a moment.

“Don’t forget to look up that friend of mine when you reach London, Jimmy.”

“Which friend?”

“Irena. You will like her.”

“Oh, yes. Irena S.”

Iris had asked me to call on a friend who had served in the ATS with her, and was now living in London, after having travelled there to see her mother.

Iris’s brown eyes surveyed me thoughtfully.

“It’s always the best friends who go away, isn’t it?”

“It is. Goodbye, Iris. Take care of yourself.”

“Goodbye, Jimmy.”

I boarded the jeep. We bumped forward. I waved. Then we were out of the dusty camp and running down the winding road leading to Haifa and the blue sea stretched out invitingly below us.

We made our way back to Sarafand, stopping on the road for a meal at a café run by a Palestinian Sabra and his wife. She was a Jewish girl who had been brought up in the same part of London as I, and when she stopped speaking Hebrew and turned to address us in English, she had a refreshingly Cockney accent which lifted my heart. On the floor of the café, her three young children sprawled happily like fat little puppies. These were the future Israelis. What a lovely country this was. I would willingly have stayed in it. But not as a British Army conscript.

After reaching Sarafand, I caught a troop train to Sidi Bishr – a military camp just outside Alexandria, and after a couple of days here, I found myself one morning on board the ship which was to return me, very much against my will, to England.

I think that quotations from my diary will best tell the rest of the story.          

Friday, September 27th, 1946. (On board the S.S.”Orduña”).

I got up early this morning at four o’clock, being among the first group to leave. At six o’clock, outsize lorries came to pick us up, and half an hour later, set us down at the Alexandria docks. Two flat motor barges approached. We boarded them, and in next to no time, we had been transferred to the “Orduña”, our kit had been stacked away, and we were ready to start.

At the moment of writing, another group of soldiers is struggling aboard. One more group after this, and we will set sail for Toulon. I’m feeling rather sleepy, and I’m not at all happy.         

The waters of the bay are twinkling in the morning sun, naked Arab divers are waiting for people to throw money in the water for them, and in the distance the buildings of Alexandria rear themselves silently against the blue sky. Shall I see them again in my lifetime? With all my heart I hope that I shall.

It is now eleven o’clock in the morning. Well, at least I’ll soon be demobilised. I’ll be free. Then, to hell with the army and to hell with the system where some jumped-up twit with a stripe on his arm or a pip on his shoulder has the right to tell me what to do, even though he is stupid enough to eat hay.

Seven o’clock in the evening.

We left Alexandria at five o’clock. There was lifeboat drill, then we had some food. Afterwards I climbed on deck and made my way towards the stern, just above the propellers. It was very dark, but behind us I could discern our foaming white wake. Beneath the deck the powerful, hidden motors pounded. From time to time a cigarette end, which some soldier had thrown away, described a red arc until it was abruptly extinguished and swallowed by the hissing sea.

On the horizon I could see the brilliant white light of the Alexandria lighthouse, surrounded by a far-off glare. The streets of Alexandria are at this moment blazing with illuminations, and it’s the same in Cairo. The Europeans are going to the cinema – to the “Odéon, to the “Kursaal”, to the ‘Miami”, and to the ‘Metro’. Galabieh-clad men are sitting outside the bistros, smoking their narghilehs, whilst in Maadi lights have been switched on in the clean little villas. You can no longer see the red blossoms on the trees that embellish the settlement, but you can smell them. And you can hear the rustling of leaves and the croaking of frogs in the canal. Ah, yes. I am sorry to leave these shores, and I would give much to remain.

10th October, 1946.

I can’t write any more. I’m a civilian in England. We crossed France and the Channel in a hurry, and I was demobilised on the sixth of October, nineteen forty-six, after five years of military service. Am I sorry to have left the army? No, indeed. I’m glad to be the captain of my soul again. But when I think of my stay in the Middle East, there is a dagger in my heart. To get away, to get away! How I long to get away!”

Ch7 Pt3 Night sky pondering.

A major outrage, attributed to Menachem Begin (subsequently an Israeli Prime Minister) and to his terrorist organisation Irgun Zvei Leumi, was the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.  It was on Monday, 22nd July, 1946, according to my diary, that the radio informed us that terrorists had blown up part of the King David Hotel. It was estimated that fifty persons of different nationalities were dead. When we were in Jerusalem, we had stopped at the huge YMCA for a wad and a cup of tchai. Afterwards we entered the outsize Synagogue next door and climbed a spiral staircase, which led to the top of a high tower, ultra modern in design, which reminded me of a church steeple. (My apologies and personal exculpations to the rabbi in charge for the comparison.)

Here, from a small square turret, one could view the whole city whose history through the ages had been so varied, so tragic and so interesting. At each side of the square turret a bronze plaque indicated the places of outstanding historical interest, and I regretted at this instant my lack of biblical knowledge and my inability to recognise many names. But below us I did notice the King David Hotel, looking as small as a loaf of bread. When we had again set foot on solid earth, I looked once more at this great white, several-storied building opposite us. The brilliant sunlight made it look even whiter than it actually was. A wide, white roadway ran in front of the hotel, and carefully cultivated lawns spotted the frontage with green.

Now part of this huge building was destroyed with considerable loss of innocent life.

I found during my stay in Palestine that my sympathy for the Jewish pioneers was increasing all the time. The more I saw how they had developed the country, the more I saw of the people, the more I thought the matter through, the more I began to realise that in this struggle I was probably on the wrong side. The arrogance of some of the British army higher echelon annoyed me personally – I could easily understand how it annoyed the Jews, people of considerable intelligence and ability who would shortly be fighting for their lives, and who were now trying to rescue the residue of survivors from European concentration camps. I formed the opinion that the Jewish people had a right to be in Palestine. This right stemmed from continuous occupation of the country since the Roman Dispersion, for a small residue of Jews had lived in the country since even those times. But above all, their right to be in Palestine arose from their immigration into what had been a useless, discarded desert of a country, and the work and effort by which they had made that country productive and useful. No land had ever been taken forcibly from the few Arabs living in Israel. On the contrary, unproductive land had been purchased at astronomical prices and made to produce. Anybody who doubts this should visit modern Israel and see the millions – and I mean literally millions – of stones necessary to remove to make the earth productive. An earlier generation would be able to quote stories of malarial swamps, which were death traps for settlers, successfully drained and made to produce, with the menace of malaria banished permanently from the land.

The famous Balfour Declaration12 of 1917 was a legalistic corner stone of the case for the right of the Jews to be in Palestine. During the First World War, the Turks, who controlled Palestine, were allied with the Germans against England and her fellow combatants. To gain world Jewish support, England sanctioned the Balfour Declaration, which recognised historic Jewish rights in Palestine and viewed with favour the establishment of a Jewish national home in that country.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I considered the bombing of the King David Hotel, which led to a considerable anti-Jewish reaction among the British forces. Although civilian authorities condemned the act, British army personnel were not mollified, for who knew which was friend and which was foe? We, of course, always stood out for what we were. Increasingly we were the occupying army, hated by the extremists, barely tolerated by those who were our friends. Perhaps then, it might be an idea if we did get out and leave Jew and Arab to cut each other’s throats. That might be better than having them cut ours.

Such was the general attitude of the British troops. Of course there were a minority, not always limited to the lower ranks, who resorted to anti-semitic diatribes that might have been worthy of the Nazis themselves. Those, like myself, who took a different view, were still, by reason of the uniform which we wore, the meat in the sandwich.

On 30th July, 1946, three months after my 24th birthday, I wrote the following letter to my mother. I quote it verbatim, without apology. I was young at the time, and even more given to flights of rapture than in later years.

“……….We are in Tel Aviv, carrying out yet another ‘screening’ operation. It’s going well. It consists of a simple interrogation of the populace who, when they have proved themselves as pure as driven snow, are allowed to disappear. In one way it seems swinish to intimidate civilians the way we are doing. We might quite easily be taken for an invading army, and I can well understand that the citizens of Tel Aviv have taken an intense dislike to us. I hate one man to humiliate another – I cannot express how much I detest that. A fortnight ago I escorted a comrade to the military prison in Jerusalem, and when I saw them take him roughly in, — bullies specially chosen for the job, — I felt quite disgusted. But what we are doing is the only way to combat the terrorism that is today eating away Palestine.

The ‘Signals’ particular job is to maintain communications between the various units, and it is clear that we shall stay here – sitting on our bottoms outside Citrus House – until the complete purification of the wicked city of Tel Aviv.

The buildings here are high and white with flat roofs bristling with wireless aerials, and are of ultra modern design. On all sides one sees huge blocks of flats with long balconies, either sharp and square, or with sweeping curves. During the day the sun shines with considerable heat, but the evenings are warm and delicious, and made beautiful by numberless stars. To my right, just above the black silhouette of a block of flats, a new moon lolls lazily on its back in a purple sky. These are meaningless words, but you feel as if your soul might escape from its imprisoning body and fly to far-off places. The sky is truly beautiful this evening. It is not yet really night. It is twilight. And hitherto I can see – from the window of the cabin of my truck – only a single star. But it is a brilliant star set in dark blue. Low on the horizon there still remains the yellow stain of the disappearing day………..”

The result of this raid on Tel Aviv was that we arrested many suspected terrorists and discovered more arms caches. I was told that fire was opened on three Jews who were trying to pass from one zone to another, thus avoiding their interrogation. I didn’t learn whether any of the poor devils had been hit. What I did learn was that one of our own lads had received a bullet in his leg. Was he the victim of a terrorist attack? Of course not! He was unloading his revolver when he accidently shot himself. How the devil he managed it, I can’t imagine.

A few days later I was on guard at our camp in the desert. I leant against the inevitable swinging beam, which barred the entrance to the camp. I looked at the silent road, bordered with cacti, from which occasional sandy paths wandered away and lost themselves in the shadows. We are in an immense cathedral. The black sky is the vaulted roof across which some unknown giant has carelessly scattered a handful of stars. How silent the night is! But not for long. For suddenly, from far away a cry is heard. Is it a human or animal voice? Cries now come from all sides. They are the baying of those half-savage dogs which one finds in Arab villages, and they are eerie enough to chill the marrow. All of a sudden one thinks of Transylvanian werewolves.  Or perhaps of those bestial lycanthropic cults said to flourish on the borders of Abyssinia. The stars are so terribly far away, and I am terribly helpless and insignificant and small. I’d much rather be in the “Old Ship” in Mare Street, Hackney, with a pint in my hand, than standing guard over the Airborne Lavatories in this chilly desert with yelping Arab dogs all around me! What am I guarding anyway? We must all be mishuga!

Never mind! It’s nearly time for the demob! And roll on that happy day!

In fact, the “happy day” now began to approach with ever increasing speed. During working hours I would do chores about the camp or send a few leisurely signals on a wireless set. In the warm evening we would sit on the terrace of the canteen, drinking tea or Stella Beer. It was that easy, relaxed time such as one experiences when the hard work is done and one waits for retirement.

Ch7 Pt2 Sarafand, Palestine and Watermelon

It was borne upon me as time went on that throughout the Christian era, the Jews had had an incredibly hard time, most particularly in Europe. The Second World War was possibly the hardest time of all, and barely a family existed in all Europe that had not been decimated as a result of Hitler’s orders to resolve the so-called “Jewish Question” by sending six million innocent men, women and children to the gas chambers and incinerators for the mortal sin of professing the wrong religion.

It was to save the remnants of these tortured communities and to make sure that such a holocaust never occurred again that the leaders of Jewish Palestine wanted the British to allow increased immigration. Bevin, the Labour Foreign Minister of the time, to his eternal discredit, actually turned immigrant ships around and sent their occupants back to those dreadful concentration camps in Europe of which they were the sole survivors.

This was why, that night when my train stopped in the middle of Sinai, near Gaza, British troops were searching soldiers of the Jewish Brigade who had fought beside us in the war – because they might have been members of the Haganah, the secret Jewish army dedicated to the removal of the British mandate which was strangling the already tortured Jewish community. This was why, in later years, when I returned to Israel, people spoke to me of the British Mandate in terms of disgust as “The British Shame”.

These things I was to understand more fully at a later date as realisation dawned on me.

The Christian religion is basically an intolerant religion, for it postulates that only those who accept its tenets may be saved. Yet it is based upon the same Bible on which Judaism erects its principles, excepting, of course, the New Testament. I often wonder if it would help matters were that Christian clergy to make a point of emphasising that Christ was a Jew and a rabbi, and that he was killed by the Romans, not the Jews. Furthermore, that the Ten Commandments were brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses, the Jewish Patriarch, and are of equal importance to both Jews and Gentiles.

My own view is that all our religions have failed in one way or another — and I regretfully have to include Judaism – because in the final analysis they elevate belief in some dogma or another over the most important fact of all, the fact of mankind’s common humanity.

After the search of the Jewish soldiers had finished, our train began to move, and within an hour we reached Gaza, a lost little outpost, where I was the only one to alight. A tumbledown cabin, threatening to collapse at any moment, seemed to serve as some sort of an office. I inquired through an opening if anybody knew anything about me, and of course, nobody did. After a few minutes, the person in charge of the office, a young soldier whose khaki shirt tails flapped carelessly outside his shorts, decided to telephone the unit which I was supposed to join. Not less than a quarter of an hour afterwards I heard him asking someone to send transport to pick me up. He then informed me that I would have to wait four hours before my truck arrived, so I sat resignedly down on my kit, feeling the sun get hotter and hotter, and the sweat begin to seep into my shirt.

I dozed off, dreaming about a farm in the Argentine, which I had once had hopes of buying after the war, after winning the Irish Sweepstakes, of course. Suddenly a distant noise brought me to wakefulness. At the bend of the black ribbon of bitumen stretching across the yellow, sandy countryside, a jeep turned suddenly into view. When it drew up, I asked the driver and his armed escort what time it was.

“Half past ten.”

Not bad. I had only waited three hours.

“Pile your kit into the back, chum,” said the escort, who sat next to the driver.

“Sure. Do you always go around armed to the teeth like that?”

The soldier fingered his Sten gun. “Orders. Terrorists knocking about. Every driver has to have an armed escort.”

I climbed on the jeep. I say “on” because by the time I had stowed my kit behind the two front seats, the only place left for me was on top of it. There was a grinding of gears and a sudden rocket-like start which nearly threw us all into the road. Typical! Even if the soldiers hadn’t been wearing red berets, I would have known I was back in the Airborne Div. Then we began to hurtle through the countryside.

This part of Palestine was very attractive. The earth gave one the impression of dryness, yet everywhere there was green. Great green cacti often bordered the route, enclosing orange groves whose oranges were at this time still quite small, and of the same dark green as the foliage surrounding them. Sometimes we passed an open yellow space next to a collection of clay dwellings, where Arab boys crushed corn by means of a small platform harnessed to heavy, patient oxen. Elsewhere men separated the wheat from the chaff by the age-old method of tossing everything into the air and letting the wind carry away what was not wanted. Arab women passed by, hips swaying, with a tall pitcher, a watermelon, or some bundle or other balanced on their heads. The women here were better clothed than their counterparts in Egypt. Long robes, often many-coloured reached almost to the ground, greatly contrasting with the drab tatters of the Egyptian peasant woman, and the veil was rarely worn. The galabieh of the Egyptian peasants was rarely in evidence here. Most of the men wore overcoat-like garments, somewhat shabby slacks, or trousers which were tightly fitting in the calf and baggy in the seat.

The relative wellbeing of these Arabs and the green of the countryside were all the more striking after the dirt and sterility of Egypt. In Egypt, every village had been dirty and dusty. Here, there was verdure. The roads were excellent, although inclined to be a little narrow. Even the houses of the Arabs, made of clay like those in Egypt, but thatched like old English cottages, seemed cleaner and far more attractive as they nestled snugly just off the road. Much of this superiority in living conditions stemmed from the efforts of the Jewish pioneers to improve what had been a most inhospitable land.                                                

We eventually reached the headquarters of the Sixth Airborne Division, where I spent the night, met several comrades from the old First Airborne Division, and made additions to my kit. The next day I went to join the Second Parachute Brigade at Sarafand Cantonnement, an immense camp of tents and barracks – almost a town of its own – between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  On the second day of my stay here, the garrison was called out to Tel Aviv to trace two British officers who had been kidnapped by terrorists. I tried to do a deal with the sergeant major, known to us as “Slapsy”, but was unsuccessful, and found myself left behind in the camp on duty in the Signal Office. A day and a half later the men returned, having succeeded in winkling out neither the kidnappers nor the kidnapped. They had, however, discovered several arms caches. One of them was under a barn, one of the pillars of which served as a ventilator. Another was beneath a children’s playground in which kiddies danced around a maypole, each one taking a cord dangling therefrom. As these children danced in a circle, each with his cord, a small fan was set in motion, and this assured a circulation of air in the underground cache.

The Jews in Palestine were aware that the British Mandate was drawing to its close, and that when it did the might of the surrounding Arab nations would be turned against them and they would need every weapon they could get to defend themselves. The imagination of the British never extended that far. We saw the matter only in terms of “Terrorists” arms caches whose weapons might be used against us. Due to our restrictive immigration policy, of course, they sometimes were.

The modern all-Jewish city of Tel Aviv was out of bounds to us. At this time, however, I was more concerned with visiting Jerusalem, which was only thirty miles away. Jerusalem was not out of bounds, but it was extremely difficult for a soldier to get there, either by ‘bus or by hitch hiking, because we were so far from the main road. Furthermore, it was a strongly enforced rule that we should go out in threes at least, and never without arms. Thus it became a question of finding two other people as anxious to go to Jerusalem as I was, who had enough money to make the trip, and who were off duty on the same day and at the same time as I. There were so few people in our Signals Section that it was hard to fulfil these conditions. Then, to clinch matters, two days after the raid on Tel Aviv, we began to prepare to move camp. No more passes, came the order, until the removal of the entire camp, lock, stock and barrel, was complete.

So we transported ourselves three miles away to Bir Selim, just outside Bir Yakov. This small Jewish colony, even further away from civilisation, consisted chiefly of half a dozen bistros with signs outside in square Hebrew characters. It seemed that after travelling a quarter of the way round the world to Palestine, I was not yet to be able to visit Jerusalem. A week later, I was sent to the Sixth Battalion, who were stationed at a large mixed army and air force camp in the desert. While I was at Bir Selim, however, I did finally manage to take a very quick look at Jerusalem.

After plaguing the life out of “Slapsy”, I managed to get myself chosen for the unpleasant job of escort for a comrade who was going to spend two weeks in the military prison at Jerusalem for having left the camp by himself and without arms. Thus, maybe for an hour, I was able to feast my eyes on the white buildings of this modern, hilly city, where it is so warm during the day, and on occasion remarkably chilly at night. I also went to the top of the tower next to the YMCA for a quick panoramic view of the surrounding country.    

Unfortunately we had to return to camp almost at once. The Old City with its Wailing Wall, its narrow alleys dating back to biblical times, and its religious shrines remained a mystery to me. In fact, I had to wait thirty two years, until 1978 before I finally returned to Jerusalem, saw all these things, and many more, and touched the wall of the Temple – “The Wailing Wall” – which had been the focus of so many Jewish dreams-in-exile over two thousand years.

The main memory of our trip to Jerusalem was the bullying manner in which my prisoner was received into the military prison – being pushed through the entrance at the double. As he disappeared, I had a glimpse of other soldiers doubling around the interior square in heavy packs in the hot sunshine and to hoarsely barked commands by the military police who seemed to be in charge.

On the road back to the camp, a lorry piled high with watermelons was rattling along in front of us, and we in our truck decided to pass it. As we drew level, we stood up in our own open vehicle, and each one of us grabbed a huge, juicy watermelon from the lorry. That day the road from Jerusalem to Sarafand was strewn with pips and watermelon rind.

Ch7 Pt1 Cairo to Gaza-under the British Mandate.

                          At the “Brew-Up Canteen”, opposite the arching entrance of Cairo’s Central Station, I nibbled my last biscuit and drank my last cup of tea in Farouk’s exotic city. I crossed the big courtyard, avoiding motor cars and horse drawn cabs, then mounted the two or three steps leading to the station, my sleeping-bag and blankets in a large roll on my back, an over-stuffed kit-bag and large pack dragging behind me, a rifle slung over my shoulder. The din from the platform struck me like a wave. Everyone was in a hurry. Newspaper vendors in galabiehs and small circular woollen hats dashed hither and thither with guttural cries of “Egyptian Mail!” – “Bourse! Bourse!” Here I saw my last braided Egyptian military big bug. These fellows were done up like field marshals, although their true rank would probably have been much less exalted. I extricated myself for the last time from the clutches of tattered beggars who wished to move my kit a few yards, even a few inches, for a grossly inflated tip. And I had my last close-up glimpse of an Egyptian native woman, with her black eyes so shockingly daubed with make-up. (In later years this became a fashion in the western world and finally seemed no longer strange). I got into the train, noting with relief that it was reserved exclusively for the use of troops. So much the better. There would be less chance of losing one’s rifle or other kit through thieves. I sat down on a wooden seat, the train groaned into motion, and then we began to leave behind the palaces and the hovels of Cairo.

                          At the first stop, I bought my last bottle of the inevitable fizzy lemonade from the inevitable dirty vendor. Made drowsy by the hum of the wheels, I watched Egypt abandon me. The palm trees, the cultivated patches of ground, sparsely covered with verdure, the irrigation canals with their muddy water, the dry desert – all passed quickly by. I was in the shadow, and the breeze from the open window struck my face. A ray of sunlight hit the floor at my side.

                          I had time to think of the future. I had enjoyed my stay in Egypt. I had even made enquiries about working there, and had found the difficulties insurmountable for one of my limited qualifications. Yet perhaps this did not matter after all. Egypt was not the country for me to spend my life in. This exploitation of the poor by the rich could not last. It was based on rotten principles. I must find a new country to settle down where a man is as good as his master, where there is no class distinction and no colour bar. Where shall I find this place? I do not know. Only one thing is certain. Years of pen-pushing at the County Hall in London will never satisfy me. One day I shall marry – for life without a woman to turn to is finally only half a life. But I must find some skill to earn a decent living, for I can never again put up with the poverty known by my parents and grandparents. And then I must leave England and plant my children in a new land. Because I have weighed English society, observed it, lived with it, and I have found it wanting. It may well be that England has rejected my people in the past. But I have now finally and forever rejected England.

                          But these are things for the future. I have gained experience in Egypt, and I have enjoyed my stay. It is a credit entry in the ledger of life.

                          I dreamt thus as the train left Egypt and the sun went to bed behind the sandy horizon. Some hours after nightfall we steamed into a siding and left the train to have a snack in a huge, badly illuminated barrack where food had been prepared for us. This was El Kantara, our last stop in Egypt. Here you either got rid of your Egyptian piastres – “ackers” to the soldier – in the perpetually open Naafi, or changed them into Palestinian “mils”. A “mil” being a one thousandth part of a Palestinian pound is worth therefore about a farthing English. Back in the train again, I sat on the floor, rested my head on a wooden seat, and drifted off into an uncomfortable slumber.

                          I awoke with every limb stiff. My eyes were sticky with sleep, my face was greasy and dirty, and my head ached abominably. Outside I heard someone shout a name. Was it “Gaza”? That was my destination, our first halt after Kantara, and we were supposed to arrive there at five o’clock in the morning. It was already half past four, and I had no wish to miss my stop and finish up at Haifa, on the Mediterranean coast near the Lebanese border – I had too much kit to lug about. I asked one or two soldiers who weren’t stretched out sleeping if they knew where we were, but they had no idea. I opened the carriage door and climbed down onto the shingley railway track. There were several sidings near to us, and I could distinguish a whitish hut just opposite which might have been some sort of a stationmaster’s office. Evidently we were in a station of some sort, but where? Was it Gaza, that lonely spot where rumour had it that the British Government was going to install all those troops whom it would shortly find itself obliged to evacuate from Egypt? At the head of the train I could see a crowd of men standing in the glare from the headlights of two motor cars. What was going on? Some days ago terrorists had blown up the railway line between Cairo and Gaza. Could this be something similar? I began to make my way through the darkness in the direction of the light, but suddenly the brilliance of an electric torch exploded in my face, and I put up my hands to protect my eyes. A voice demanded: “Who are you?” The light was lowered, and I could distinguish the white straps and the red-covered cap of a man of the Corps of Military Police. Beneath his arm he held a small machine gun.

                          “I’m going to Gaza. What’s happening over there?”

                          “Nothing. Get back into your carriage.”

                          “How far is it from here to Gaza?”

                          “An hour’s journey.” 

                          “Are we going to stay here long?”

                          “I don’t know.”

                          He had planted himself in front of me. I turned my back on him and regained my carriage. The bloody Gestapo again! No wonder these military police are the outcasts of the British army. Their only object in life is to bully their comrades and put them on charges. It’s a pig’s job, and it takes a certain type of piggish mentality to carry it out.

                          On my very first leave in the army, I had run up against the military police, and thereafter kept as much out of their way as possible. I had left my parents’ flat without my pay book or my pass, for I was still very much a greenhorn. Naturally, a military policeman stopped me and asked me for my papers, which I was unable to produce. However, I told him that I had left them at home, just two steps away, and if he would come with me, I would produce them. He refused to do this, and took me to the local police station, where he put through a call to Scotland Yard, (apparently their military headquarters), telling them he was bringing me in. A military police sergeant then appeared. I explained the position to him, and eventually prevailed upon him and his understrapper to accompany me to my home so that we could end this silly business. This was done, and I produced my pass to their satisfaction. However, since a phone call had been placed to Scotland Yard they told me that they would now have to deliver my body there so that the whole matter could be tied up in red tape and filed away. So we got into their vehicle and I finished up at Scotland Yard, where I was finally turned loose.

                          I could have lost half a day’s precious leave through this, but the last laugh was against the military police because I had intended to go into the west end anyhow. In my eyes, they had merely finished up giving me a free lift. Nevertheless, this little encounter reinforced my previous opinion that there were two major qualifications necessary to be a military policeman. First of all you had to have a natural, inbuilt inclination to be a rotten bastard. Secondly, it was mandatory to have a fair amount of bone and not too much brain between the ears.

                          Turning these matters over moodily in my mind, I sat down once again on the floor of my carriage, rested my head on the hard wooden seat, and eventually fell asleep.

                          It might have been an hour and a half later when I awoke. Around me haggard wrecks which one recognised with difficulty as being human beings were picking themselves off the floor. Never mind. Somewhere “our boys” had mothers who loved them and wives who thought they were handsome! Our train still had not moved, and I staggered towards the door, teetered on the threshold, and descended to the track. It was extremely cold. To think that yesterday I had been in Egypt, where all the nights seemed to be warm. The crowd I had noticed the night before was still gathered at the front of the train, and I strolled in its direction.

                          Officers and military policemen were searching the kit of a number of Jewish soldiers – big, tough looking men with words on their shoulder flashes in the unintelligible Hebrew tongue. But the search was almost finished, and they were packing up.

                          I walked idly back to my carriage. About me wagons still rested silently in their sidings. Dawn was just breaking. The sky was half grey, half blue, and there was as yet no trace of the sun. Fields extended on either side, gloomy and indistinct. Not a sign of movement attracted the eye. Nothing was happening. The land was dead. Yet this country of Palestine was torn by internecine strife between Jew and Arab. We English were there because we had a duty to maintain some semblance of order in the land under mandate to us from the old League of Nations; but also because, when we had left Egypt, we should need some territory as a military base to protect our lines of communication with the Orient, and our Middle East oil against the menace of foreign powers, principally Russia. Naturally, we received in the process kicks in the backside from both Jews and Arabs. From the Jews, because we wouldn’t allow a rush of immigrants to enter the territory. From the Arabs, because we wouldn’t make our measures more restrictive than they were against the Jews. Never again will I believe – if I ever really have — the old propaganda from my schooldays, that wherever he goes ‘everybody loves an Englishman’. In my experience, the exact reverse is often the case, and sometimes it is the Englishman’s fault.

                          During my stay in Palestine, I noticed a marked hostility to the Jews in all ranks in the British army. I even felt it within myself, but in the interests of fairness, tried to suppress it. I was familiar and friendly with Jewish English people from my childhood days, but had never thought to try and see the world through Jewish eyes. In Palestine I now began consciously to try to do this.