WW II, a British focus



memories of Pte Tom Barker
1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders

Tom Barker passed on October 1st 2008poppy.gif - 1571 Bytes



Jericho Palestine 1939.

'Aye up, 'ave yust 'eerd ap'n us is gittin' sum pictchers'

As this dramatic bit of info permeated the brains of most blokes who were sitting on their beds cleaning rifles, writing letters home or just reading, all activity ceased. Cries of 'wha telt ye thaat Wully' and 'ye've bin oot in the sun agin, yer f-n' eegit

'It's true' cried Wully, 'go look fer yer sel'

'Am awa tae hae a wee gleg', said one Highlander and kicking the foot of the bloke next to him he said 'watch ma' rifle Jim' and the Highlander laid his rifle down and walked to the head of his bed and out of the tent.

Another bloke with an Oxford accent suggested, 'with our luck it will probably be for officers only'

A Geordie voice offered, 'aye, an' blue bloody movies nae doot'

Desert Tent similar to the one Tom describes Another desert tent

The tents were cottage type tents and could accommodate twenty beds. Each bed was made up of two wooden trestles about a foot off the sand. Onto these trestles three 'six foot by one foot by one inch' planks were laid side by side. The planks had been trimmed at each end and a metal strip had been nailed on, presumably to ensure they did not suffer damage while being transported. On top of the planks three 'two foot by two foot by six inches' canvas squares filled with wood shavings and coir. One pillow, two sheets and a blanket, and a mosquito net completed the assembly. Some blokes had pet chameleons crawling on the outside of their nets.

It was sometimes comical to see a bloke writing a letter home when suddenly he would stop writing and sit still mesmerized by the sudden demise of a fly that had been buzzing round his bed for about five minutes. The fly would settle on his net and the chameleon would creep ever so slowly towards it. The chameleon's eyes swiveled around independently like two wizened miniature ice cream cones stuck on either side of it's head. The chameleon's foot would unclamp off the net and move slowly forward then as if testing the net it would finally clamp on to this new position and another foot would do like wise. It all seemed so painfully slow. Then the body would move, albeit jerkily and slowly toward the fly. As the chameleon's mouth began to slowly open the onlooker found it difficult to believe the fly could become a victim at this range. Then as if a trigger had been pulled the long tongue with the sticky ball on the end would zap out and stick to the fly and zip back into the chameleon's mouth carrying the luckless fly with it. The onlooker is sometimes taken completely by surprise when the chameleon strikes because of the distance between it and it's prey and the last glimpse of the fly is a crumpled wing disappearing into the mouth of the now gulping lizard. The bloke who had been watching entranced grimaced, and muttering 'bloody flies' returned to his correspondence.

The beds were ten down one side and ten down the other, so there was a walkway down the center length of the tent. Since the foot of all beds pointed toward the center of the tent the heads were against the walls. Two stout poles held up the tent and at each pole in the ceiling of the canvas were two air vents. The canvas of the tents was white on the outside, the inside was a buff colour. On hot days the walls of these tents were rolled back to each corner so as to let any cooling breezes blow through.

The only trouble was when it was hot nights and the walls remained open one tended to awaken at the slightest sound because the Asian Indian and the Arab had the nasty habit of creeping up on one in the dark and silently cutting the throat of any unfortunate who happened to have something they coveted, namely rifles and ammo. The reader can be forgiven for mentally querying, 'Wot, no guards posted?' One could have guards all round the camp, but then there would be no sleepers to protect. Guards are in fact posted by all regiments in peace time as well as war time. But service abroad among hostile natives hones the guards to a point where even when they have left the services they still obey the instinct to self preservation.

In short, on hearing a noise in the back yard ex soldiers tend to investigate rather than, "oh don't worry about it probably next door's cat. Then in the morning the cat do-gooder flies into a rage because some thief has removed the kids two new bikes.

This reminds me of my father mentioning that when they first arrived in Egypt all their guns were stolen from the centre of the tent. Another night he awoke to watch as a thief working a Tommy gun out from under a sleeping soldier (they often slept on thier guns for security). He said the thief co-ordinated the movements of the gun with the soldiers breathing. Apparently my father almost lost a Tommy gun on a train, but was able to catch the thief. The Arabs would even steel Artillery!

The Highlander paused as he was leaving the tent and removing his Tam o' Shanter bonnet he pointed to the round tassle on the top, 'if yer evvin' me oen Wull mah bonnet's goin' tae look like thon Pawnbroker's sign, cos ah'l decorate et wi' yer ba's'. Then he was gone.

About five minutes later he was back with a huge grin on his face. 'Ah dinnae believe et', Wully wes richt, sum biddy ca'ed Shafto hez a truck wi hez name splattered ower et an' they're pootin' canvas aw roond, an' they hae a screen up' aw ready.

Wully, who had been beaming with delight since his info had been verified began to calm down and when no one offered to pat him on the back he slumped onto his bed and laid there reflected his efforts of the last fifteen minutes. Suddenly he cheered up considerably when it dawned on him he was not about to have his family jewels snipped off and worn as a hock shop sign on Jock's cap. The first night the cinema opened was hilarious, because it was situated near our lines, "The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders' The main body of the audience was Argylls.

The film that night was something about Paris with Leslie Caron cavorting on a table top dressed in fish net stockings that went all the way up under the tight short dress she was wriggling about in. There was lots whistling until the film broke and then the whistles turned to boo's as the screen had only a glaring white light on it. Then suddenly a huge cheer went up as it turned into a picture shadow show as some one at the back lifted up a cardboard cut out of two dogs fornicating. The cardboard dog at the rear had a pivot at the hip and by moving the back foot of the cardboard the shadows on the screen suddenly came to life. The place was in uproar as the rear dogs hind quarters began to move like a fiddler's elbow.

Officers who were sitting with lady friends suddenly got up and left the enclosure with bright red faces while their lady friends were giggling and looking back at the screen while the escorting Officer could not get them out quick enough.

The film was repaired. Another break down occurred but we did not see the shadowy dog again due to the fact that now there were M.Ps loitering in front of the projection truck. A week later word got round that Shirley Temple was going to be on at the cinema. Since we had only just got back off a stint of Police work some of our lads decided they would go and pay the cinema a visit.

I was sitting on my bed writing a letter home. The night sky was full of stars and I thought fondly of the Oxford Theatre in Barton -on-Humber. I wondered what would be showing there.

My reverie was shattered by a couple of our lads limping into the tent. 'Bloody Hell' said I, looking at one blokes torn shirt and the other with a bloody nose, "wor 'appened tu you two. 'Ther wis a ficht, aye, but ya shid see tuther yin, ah gid hem the heed' sniff.

The next day we heard all about it. Some of the Queen's regiment and a couple of our lads were in hospital. Then a notice was nailed up on the company orders board. It detailed times and dates when we could go to the cinema and owing to the fracas of a certain date this would be the procedure from now on, etc etc. It appeared the Queens and the Leicestershire Regiments were at the cinema that night and a couple of Jocks were not being admitted, and of course most Jocks took this as an affront and did what Jocks do best when affronted. They came back to our lines and soon a huge crowd of belligerent Jocks was making it's way to the cinema.

"Naebiddy comes an' teks ower oor Pectures," then the manure hit the fan and the hospital that had been enjoying the doldrums was suddenly on overtime.

Cries of, 'remember Banochburn' from the Jocks.

And from the Queens and Leicesters, ' you b--s remember it because it's the only f-n' battle ya ever won.'

So the three camps had to be kept apart and peace reigned, albeit until they met by accident, then the hospital trade picked up again. One day I was returning from Guard duty and was on my way back to my tent when I saw a couple of blokes looking at a five foot long black dead snake. It had been run over by a truck.

One of the blokes said, 'watch this Tommo, a quick demo of how to clear a tent in one second flat.' And with that he grabbed the snake by it's tail and with a whirl and a heave it went sailing toward our tent where a crowd of blokes were playing cards for cigarettes on one of the beds. The dead black snake hit the sand just short of the doorway but then inertia caused it to slide in the loose sand and it slid about three yards and ended up about a foot away from the nearest bloke playing cards. He saw it move out of the corner of his eye and he played a card, then did a double take and his eyes popped out onto his cheeks and he yelped and dropped his cards and pointed, then pandemonium broke loose.

One bloke shot up the tent pole next to him as if he was on a winch and on reaching the top he was trying vainly to get through he small air vent at the top. Through the now enveloping clouds of fine dust being stirred up by feet which were wind milling at max revs shadowy figures could be seen evacuating the tent in all directions. Skid marks in the sand and scattered cards on the now dusty blanket was all that was left of an afternoon of serenity. The bloke who had thrown the snake was hanging on to his mate and both were in tears of laughter. Finally they took the snake and dug a hole and buried it. No one ever found out who had slung the snake, most thought it had just crawled away. We were not about to enlighten them.

The Jewish Binocular shop in Tel Aviv began to pick up some extra business because some of our crafty lads had bought binoculars and were now watching the film from their tents. They sometimes swung over to the officers lines when a car pulled up and some filly got out in a tight skirt and dead straight seams in her stockings. Somebody finally got wise to it. They also wised up to the fact that some blokes were bringing their own seats and sitting outside the canvas and avoiding the entrance fee. This did not sit well with the contractor who noticed his entrance fee was being spent at the N.A.A.F.I. on grog and fizzy drinks plus nuts and fruit. When the contractor confronted some of the lads lounging in their deck chairs and requested them to move them away from just outside his cinema he was told to stop acting like a fruit or he would get a swift kick in the nuts. Seeing he was in a no win situation the contractor had the canvas altered so we could no longer see over it and get our evening entertainment for free. The someone told us war had been declared on Germany. Tom Barker 1999 c

2982252 Pte Barker T.O. 1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Born 23 May 1921.
Tom Barker