Tom Barker passed on October 1st 2008
AUG. 1938, I JOIN UP
On the ninth of August, nineteen thirty eight, I joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. It was not a momentous occasion, in fact it was more like a Charlie Chaplin type comedy. I had got thoroughly disenchanted with what I was doing for a living, i.e. digging ditches to put pipes in so the post office could
lay cables in them. Not only that, but with the onset of winter I did'nt fancy wallowing in mud and snow
like I did last year. Having walked up Suchiehall st. in Glasgow, I noticed the recruiting office and thought
"I could join the navy from here".
That's when the fun started. I walked in and a Sergeant was sitting at a desk "come in laddie, would ye
like a cup o' tea, it's aufie cauld oot there ah ken, ahm ony just in mahsel, sit ye doon man". So I sat on
the nearest chair and the Sgt. asked what he could do for me. I said "I would like to join the navy". "And how old are ye" he queried. I replied "eighteen next May". "Well" he said, "if ye gang enty the navy ye'll
will be classed as a boy 'til next May and yer rate of pay will be that o' a boy also until next may. But I
could mebbe arrange it so ye'll would be on a man's pay if ye were to join the Argyll's. All we do is say ye were born nineteen twenty instead o' twenty yin. Besides if yer boat sinks ye'll hae an aufie long swim amang the sherks and they bite. Ah had a brother in law was in the navy, and he got bit by a shark, now
he walkes in the gutter cos yin leg is shorter than the other yin. Then there's the air force. Man that's an aufie lang way doon if yer ingine packs up an ye dinnie hae a parachute. Aye man, the Argyll's wull mak a man o'ye". And I thought yea yea, I know you had a brother in the air force, what did he do,?. And I thought what the hell "where do I sign"?. I didn’t see him rub a lamp or wave a wand but there in front of me were the papers ready to sign. I was an ardent cowboy fan but this bloke could have out drawn the best. He was that quick, the Sgt. had the forms in front of me before I had closed my mouth. "Here's the King's shillen" he said, and he never blinked an eye. And I was now in the A & SH. "Wait the noo" he said, "ye need a travel warrant to tak ye to Stirrling Castle".
My head was still spinning as I made my way to the railway station. Having arrived at Stirling Castle I was shown into a small room with about six beds in it. I put my gear on the nearest one and opened the nearest locker and stowed my gear, what bit there was. I relaxed on the bed until a bloke came in and he said he had just joined up. "What's it like"? I said "ive only been here fifteen minutes myself. Name's Tom Barker". "My name's Bob Moat. I wonder what time we get some grub". "Well Bob, the bloke who showed me in here said stay put. "So I suppose that's what we aught to do. You know first day an' all". "Yea, I suppose you're right" said he. Then from out side came the wail of bag pipes and the door opened and a gust of cold wind and snow flakes came swirling in as a head poked round the door. "Youse blokes better get tae the dinin' hall ef ye wan' some tea". So like two rockets we took off for the dining hall and had to ask where it was and arrivig there we got into the queue.
Sausage and mash and a big mug of hot sweet tea, on the table was bread butter and marmalade or jam.
But there was also a good feeling about this place. The next day more bods arrived and I noticed they were filling another room next to ours. A sergeant came in and said "right ho lads we go to the barber today then we collects oor kit. Then we visit the tailor to make sure the kit ye got fits properly. Then we break for dinner and in the afternoon ye will be back 'ere to get fitted for boots and webbing and a rifle. Drill purpose only. And a bayonet, also drill purpose only. Then ye will get yer gear and move inty that barracks over
there. When youse have finished squabbling over who is having what bed, youse will make it up
and in the mornin’ we will gang through the drill of barrack room inspection. Ye will be shown how to make yer bed up for inspection and lay oot yer gear. Also keep a tidy foot locker, the C.O.may want tae hae a wee look in it ye ken, and woe betide any one that lets me down. My name is Sergeant Hutchinson and I am yer instructor while youse are here at the castle. My job is to make sure all of youse people make the grade. It is not going to be easy. This is a highland regiment and to Scotland a highland regiment is
equal to a guards regiment in England. So if youse don't make the grade, ye will be posted to a lowland regiment. Highland regiments wear kilts and no knickers, lowland regiments wear tartan trews (trousers). Reveille is at six, p.t. is at six fifteen, breakfast is at seven, at eight ye will be ready to fall in for drill. At ten
ye can go to the naafi for a cup of char and a wad (tea and a bun). And watch yer sel or they naafi wenches will drag you o’er the coonter and hae their wicked way wi ye. Then yer will be queuing up to see the medical officer so he can push a wee umbrella up yerr wullie. And if'n yer don't know what a wee umbrella is, well for your hedification its a wee tube and when it's pushed in he presses a wee button and wee knife blades click oot then he drags it doown and oot. Why is that man laying doon at the back there?"
Some body volunteered "I think he just passed out Sgt."
"At half past ten ye will be back for more drill, then at twelve ye can have yer dinner, at one youse will be back on the square. And we will continue were we left off with the drill. Is there any one here with a question. Very well. By the way yer rifle has no firing pin and yer pig sticker has been blunted so if yer
grow to dislike me as some of ye undoubtedly will during yer training, don't worry too much aboot it because one way or another youse will leave here fully trained soldiers capable of looking after yer sel’ in any emergency. I would rather ye hate my guts than pick up a news paper and read ye had been kilt cos I had gone easy with yer. And pick him up its cold on the ground, I don't want some body going sick on his first day ‘ere. Dismiss."
And Bob said "Well tomorrow the shit hits the fan to coin a phrase". I replied "you could be
right". He was. I woke up in a nice warm bed and it was just getting light out side, a piper was walking
the parapet, as I listened to the wailing of the pipes as he marched back and forth I became aware of the bugle in the background. "Get out of bed, get out of bed, yu lazy so and so’s". Well I thought here we go, a start to a new day. Suddenly the barrack room door CRASHED open "why are you lazy lot
of lay abouts still in bed?" screamed this voice. I looked at the doorway to see a sergeant with a red sash over his tunic. He had a red moustache to go with the sash and a bunch of red hair stuck out from under his bonnet. I saw his beady eyes darting round the room. I thought how like a rat looking through a sweeping brush he looked. Some body muttered "shit, it's Rob Roy hissell". By this time most blokes were out of bed. In the corner was a bloke called Mclure and he was still tucked up and fast asleep so the Sergeant walked over. With his heavy stick suddenly banged two or three times on the metal locker
next to the blokes bed. Mclure suddenly sat up and rubbing his eyes enquired "where's ma tea". The sergeant said almost in a whisper "just lay there while I nip and get you some laddie, would ye like some bergoo (porridge) as weel?". And suddenly he roared "ger oot o that flamin'pit" and grabbing the edge of the bed he tipped the bloke onto the floor. Then he roared "see they scratch marks on the flair, well your bed just made 'em and temorrer mornin' if they's still there ye'll be on a charge. So get the bumper polisher and get cracking and get rid o' em. Are ye hearin' me laddie?. No, no' the noo ye hev'ny got time. Get ready for parade. Ye can do it after ye hev fenished fer the day, o.k." snarled the Sgt. "Er, yea, thanks very much" replied the now fully awake bod. "Right, now today we will go and pay our respects to our wonderful barber who won't have any bother from you'se lot cos 'e shears most sheep and 'orses round 'ere an they don't tell 'im what style they wants it cuttin' so it's just up and over. Like he just goes over an you'se just get up, got it."
So we trundelled round to the barber's shop and lined up outside.
"Right" said the sergeant, "first man in, move". And grabbing the nearest bloke pushed him toward
the door into the shop. Then he said "I will be back, and when I am back you'se lot will be here all
cut and dusted so dinny wander off ". And without turning he said "did I give any body perrmision
to smoke?". A timid voice responded with "no sergeant". "Then why is he smoking?" and whirling round
he stuck his face into the offender's face who was valiantly trying to hide the cigarette in his
cupped hand, and it was burning him so he let it drop. "Oh so we 'ave a litter bug in our midst do
we. Well for yer himformation us don't like litter bugs, jitter bugs, or any other little bugs at Stirling
Castle, an' little bugs we exterminate. Jitter bugs gets their radio confiscated. An' litter bugs gets
seven days jankers. But if yer was tu pick it up a bit sharpish like, seein' as 'ow yu' did'nt know the
rules yet, we could forget it if yer was tae help hem wi 'is scratch on the polished flair under wher
'is flea pit staun's (polished floor under where his bed stands).
Well we got our hair cut then we were kitted out. To get kitted out we entered a door and immediatley came to a counter behind which was bod who asked "heed size"? One bloke said "medium I think" the bloke behind the counter sighed and turned and grabbed a balmoral cap, slung it over the counter "try thaat" he growled. The recruit put on the cap. It fell over his ears and eyes. "Shit who's put out the lights" he squawked. "Hereyar ijit (idiot) try this yin" said the bloke behind the counter, and threw another
bonnet on the counter. "Thaat's a six and three quaarters try tae remember thaat, next" and the
bloke with the new cap moved down to the next bored looking bloke down the counter who it turned out was dishing out foot ware, He suggested "get them too big rather than too small that will allow your feet to swell when you have marched a long way. I didn’t like the sound of that. The bloke who had been thrown the over size bonnet said "with all this stuff to remember mabye I should have kept the big bonnet" to which the bloke behind the counter said "don't get carried away sonnie, next man" and so on until we emerged at the exit door laden with our new hats boots, p.t.shoes, kilt, glengarry cap, sporran, highland shoes, spats, the list goes on. Then we were issued with equipment and it was like a comic opera watching some of these
blokes putting their gear together. The brass, ah yes, the brasses, we had brass clips, brass buckles, the sporran had an arched piece of brass over the top of it. It also had six tassle brasses that were identical in size and shape to those things they fit on the barrel bit that has icing sugar in it and they decorate a cake
with it. We had to clean all the brasses until they shone like mirrors. One bloke had just finished cleaning all the greasy gunk off of his rifle and he pointed it across at one of his mates and said "bang" just as the Sgt. came in. The Sgt. immediatly snarled at him "you dawsy little man, you never ever, not never, point a gun at nobody, I don't care if it's not loaded (don't ever point a gun at anyone), and just as suddenly became amiable again and anounced, "Roight then tomorrow us lot is going to teach you'se slovernly lot how to march.
“It's going to be up hill work for me because most of you have a job walking in a straight line to begin with, still that's what i'm here for. By the way make the most of what's left of today, tomorrer we start workin'. Then he picked up a boot one of the blokes had spent hours on shining and asked him "when are you going to clean this one?", threw it on the bed, then he left.
The next day didle,didle,dae,dae, the pipes woke me up and as soon as the bugle sounded I was out of bed and into my p.t. gear, blue T shirt, blue baggy shorts which stopped short at the knee, socks and p.t. shoes, some call them sand shoes. Soon there we were, a platoon of recruits hunched up against the wall trying to get behind one another to get shelter from the cold wind that was blowing across the parade ground.
We looked more like escapees from a loony bin. Suddenly on the road that led up from the gym this bloke (Sergeant Major Lony instructor) built like Charles Atlas and a face like a train had run over it came jogging. He jogged up to our group and whilst still jogging on the spot he shouted to us "right you men", and some of us beamed, but not for long as he continued "on the spot double marc time". When he was satified we all had our legs under control he
shouted again "follow me" and still jogging he turned right in mid air and set off back the way he had come with us in tow.
We followed him as he turned right past Robert the Bruce monument then down the stairway that led to the road at the foot of the castle. We ran for miles it seemed, and when finally we stopped this bloke who must have been fifty years old we guessed said, "ok have a wee rest then we run back, are ye's ready". One of the blokes gasped "what aboot the wee rest". The p.t.i. said "you just had it, but you can have another when we get back". So we set off back to the castle and when we staggered into the showers some body said "I don't believe it". "What?" "That's just for starters tomorrow we go twice as far". "Ahm goin' sick termorrer". "Me too". "An me anall". "Yer wilny git awa wiyet". "Won't be for wont o'tryin" and the patter continued until some one suggested we might be late for breakfast if we kept dawdeling.
So to the dining hall we trickeled (no we did not jog) and were in time to sample bergoo with salt (porridge salted) sausage and eggs, toast and marmalade. Then back to the billet and change into brown fatigues ready for drill. We did not have to wait long. Staff Sergeant Hutchinson appeared with a corporal and we were walked out of the castle across the drawbridge onto the main parade ground, and there we were
lined up to be shown how to form fours. I won't drag that out because we had more or less learned it when the whole system was updated, so we had to now learn the new way which was marching in three ranks instead of four. Fix bayonets was also impossible the old way, so all in all we were learning along side some of the old sweats. We were also invited to join the highland dancing unit, the boxing team and sword fencing unit. I joined the boxing team but after about a month I gave it away, mainly because one day I had
collected my two rounds of toast when a bloke goes by with a plate full of meat and gravy so I joined the land of the living again so to speak. Stuff boxing if you have to lose weight just to fight somebody lighter than you.
Some things were not optional, like bayonette fighting and unarmed combat. Some times these could be a bit rough, well at the time it looks that way. But later on there comes a time when you could not thank these blokes enough. They really did save lives by putting us through the mill. I saw blokes with swollen eyes, split lips, scraped ears, and if somebody forgot his gum shield he could end up minus a few teeth. Usually unarmed combat was taught in the gym on straw mattresses, but bayonette fighting was usually in a grass field. The instructer had a long pole with a pad on the end and he tried to touch the pad on parts of the body to get a score we had to stop him getting a score. At first, because we were unskilled and he was expert we got the dirty end of the stick so to speak. And it was as he said if we got hurt now maybe we would’nt get hurt later.
This story validates that remark. In the gym were ropes hanging from the ceiling, "six ropes so the first six men to the ropes, MOVE" and smartly you moved to a rope. "Touch the ceiling, MOVE", and the first to touch the ceiling would be noted in a little book. The trick here was you climb hand over hand, you are not allowed to use legs or feet. Well I was skinny but whick so I could go up the rope pretty good. Then we had to run at and leap over this wooden horse and some blokes just could not bear the thought of having two flat discs where their nuts should be so they flunked it every time. Then one day we were in this field and a track was laid out so we lined up and I thought this is too easy because when I ran a mile to school and a mile home again for about four years when I was at Thonton Curtis school so long distance running to me was like taking the dog for a walk. Anyway the instructer said five times round then we put the tape up, ready, get set, go! So the mob set off and for a while there was a lot of huffing and puffing and gradually the bunched up athletes began to thin out as some lagged behind and some eased to the front. I began to ease my way up to the front few and one by one I passed these till I was out front on my own and I
was chuffed to naafi break until I heard this hard breathing creeping up on me. The finish tape was in sight and this heavy breather was getting nearer until he drew level and I glanced to see a bloke called Taffy Williams, a big built bloke and I thought 'he can run for a big bloke' so I give it all i'd got but old Taffy just eased past me at the last minute and won it.
I was pumping like a broken winded horse. Then we were taken to a room with six rifles mounted on tripods and these were pointing more or less in the direction of one wall where six targets were pinned up, "right the first six men behind the rifles, move". When the men had aimed the rifles at the targets on the wall the insructor glanced down each sight then knocked the guns awrie again. Then the next six would sight the
guns and so on till It was my turn with five others. On looking down the gun I had sighted the instructor looked at his mate and with a jerk of his head motioned to the gun I had sighted, the bloke looked and wrote in his little book. The instructer looked down the sight hit the rifle and said do it again, so I did. He called the other instructer and said have a look. And he too hit the rifle again and said do it again, so I did
and I was puzzled. Because at fair grounds I used to get chased away because I never missed they wrote in their little books and one instructer asked "where did you learn to shoot like that"? I told him about living on a farm and shooting rabbits and hares on the run. I didn't shoot them but my dad did and I would be under and behind the gun so I could see how much it was leading the target when it fired. I learned a lot from my dad on those shooting forays and listened to pearls of wisdom like "I can't under stand some body puttin' a mucky finger in 'is gob just to hold it up to see were winds cummin' from. Yu' can feel it ont back o' ta neck or on one side o't' faes an ifn yer eyes are watterin' it's int front an' if yu get used to usin' that common sence yer half way ome.
Then the instructor made all the others look down the rifle I had sighted and remarked that is how it should be done, so from then on I was ribbed rotten by the other blokes. I also went to school again but this did not advance me very far, I did learn map reading, compass stars etc, which came in handy from time to time. But I think my grounding was learned on the farm on which I was to benefit mostly from. I think the main object of the school was to sort out those who could read and write and those who could not, so the latter spent a lot more time there than I did.
Thursday after noon was big parade time, we would form up on the inside parade ground and march out through the gate and over the drawer bridge to the full pipe band playing out side on the big parade ground or the castle's front apron as some called it. There would be chalk marks on the ground where we marched to before turning to go back the way we came, so back and forth we would march while visitors snapped pictures and clapped. When it was all over we were glad to collapse on our bunks.
Some body came charging in one day and said Snow White and the seven dwarfs are on at the pictures next week. It's one of Walt Disney's better cartoons he warbled so don't miss it". Actualy it had been in the
paper last week and it was just another cartoon as far as we were conserned, but later it turned out to be a block buster movie. When a group of any gender get together and live together sooner or later there is a pecking order established. So it was inevitable squabbles and fights would break out until this order was
settled then once this period was over peace reigned again, and we could devote all our time in getting knocked into shape as soldiers. For the first week no new recruit was allowed off the castle limits, that meant you could not go down to the town, but to pass the time you could bone your boots to a shining black and re polish all your equipment. You also had to polish the barrack room wooden floor with a bumper, this was a heavy pad at the end of a pole and having splashed polish on the floor you then rubbed it in with this bumper, after a few weeks of bumping you got used to it and it made you feel good. It also made the floor slippery and shining.
Then we were vaccinated and we were told the best way to forget the lump under our arm was to keep on bumpering the floor. When finally we were informed we could go "doon the toon" (down to the town of Stirling), we whooped and looked forward to end of work that day. Finally, Bob Moat and I decided we would go see this Walt Disney Snow White and the seven dwarfs we had heard so much about. We got into the guard room and the sergeant at the desk who we had to face and give name rank and number to said "ye see that shiny plate in front o' ye, weel ah wan' ye tae stuan' ower thaat so ah can see if ye hev ony draws on an if ye hev ye dinny git oot the nacht, d'ya ken wha' ahm sayin' tae ye". So Bob and I had to go back to the billet but we got out the next night, minus drawers.
But even that was frought with danger because as we walked through the arcade we stopped and admired all the trinkets in a jewelers window and in the window glass I saw these two figures appear behind us. I recognised the RSM and his wife, well I presumed it was his wife, then he tapped me on the shoulder and quietly said "do up your collar and if I see it undone again you will be on a charge" and his wife smiled sweetly and they moved away. Bob said "he must have eyes like a bloody hawk to see your coller hooks undone through that soddin' winder." But I was glad I had recognized him in his civvy out fit because if I had given him bit of lip I would have got locked up.
We paid for our ticket and went in to the cinema and it was a good film, when we came out it was snowing and I suggested p.t. might be cancelled tomorrow morning if it got deep enough. It was, but we were directed to the gym instead and had to leap over this wooden horse and climb ropes and by the time it was over I wished it had'nt snowed. Then one day we were told to put all our kit into our packs and tomorrow we would go for a walk with full pack rifle equipment the works, and water bottles would be full, this added to the weight. When we set off it was not so bad, but after an hour of walking the gear began to sag a bit
and seemed to get heavier and heavier and soon we no longer had that jaunty step more like dragging ass to coin an American phrase after five miles we stopped and the bloke in charge said "ok, you'se did good now we go back".
Then there was the sports day, and a bloke who had seen others tossing the caber said "that's a peice of cake". So he picked up the caber, and before any one could stop him, he lifted it, and did a little run and a heave. The caber just hit the ground and was falling backwards, it would have brained the bloke if one of the caber throwers had not pushed him out of the way and told him to take lessons before trying again.
A caber, by the way, looks a bit like a telegragh pole. The idea is to first get it standing on its end, then reach down with the shoulder against it to stop it falling down, and put the hands under the end and lift it. So now being hunched up behind this pole you endeaver to move forward keeping it balanced upright and increasing your gait until you have enough speed to heave your end into the air and hope it goes up and over as the other end digs into the ground. Don't take your eye of it, because it may come down where you are stood so you watch it and get out of the way in case it does not go up and over, or you will be down under, hammered into the ground like a tent peg.
The canteen was the favourite spot for char and wad (tea and a bun) all the local gossip was also picked up here as well. Most of the staff at Stirling Castle were old soldiers or on reserve and most had served in India. In the canteen one evening I was sitting minding my own buisness when this bloke called Ferris
came across, "A'm Ferris" said he, "would ye like tae play a game o' draughts wi' me". Well I knew
how to play the game but found it boring but I thought just to be sociable I would give him a game. Two hours later and I could not get past four moves with this bloke and later in the barrack room some body said "Ah see yu met Ferris. I found out later that so far no one in the castle had beaten Ferris at draughts.
I also heard he would not play for money he just enjoyed the game for what it was. I also was informed from a reliable source that David Niven was in the Argylls but had been transferred to the h.l.i.(highland light infantry). He was a leiutenant. Then we had a character who would lend you five bob this week but next week you gave him back double. The Sergeant nipped his little enterprise in the bud by saying "any body owing him money, did'nt any more", and if he found out that he was continuing this practice he would get
transferred. He ceased forthwith.
As winter came upon us the parade ground got very slippery. At times and it was not unusual to see on the first parade the sergeants all walking a bit gingerly over the cobble stones as the RSM called for instructors. We used to take the mick sometimes and you might hear someone whisper 'suckers'. The sergeants would report all present and then return to their platoons then we would go about our assignments.
After eight weeks training we were allowed to go home on leave. Civvy clothes were not allowed on this first leave. I found out later this was a good move on the part of the war office because they used us to advertise what a good life it was in the army. I must admit I was or I felt like I was three inches taller, any way I was off like a shot once I had my rail warrant and pay. My leave was uneventful once the hello nice to see you bit was over, I was bored to tears. We did go to Kingston upon Hull once during that leave and my mum, dad and I had our picture taken at Jerome's studio. As we came out the church bells rang for two minutes silence remembering the fallen of the first world war, it was eleven o' clock nov eleventh nineteen thirty eight. One day I was sitting at home and mum asked me to go down Fleetgate street to the news agent and get a paper and I thought nothing of it until half way down the street. I met a bunch of girls who worked at the local rope works, it was lunch time for them. As they walked past me one of them said loudly "all dressed up like a bloody Christmas tree and no where to go" so they all had a giggle at my expence. When I went for another paper I made sure it was'nt lunch time.
I returned to Stirling Castle when my leave was over and continued to learn all about soldiering. I had another leave and then we were finished with our training. It was not long before they shipped us down to Aldershot to the main battalion. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, or if you prefer what one wit called us (the agile and suffering highlanders). The first time on the parade ground was an eye opener for me. There was the whole regiment in line of three's and a complete pipe band with drums and in the distance. A voice came on the wind "parade will advance by the right quick march" and like a clockwork toy the band struck up and the whole parade moved as one, left, right, all the white spats on the feet moving like pendulems and the sporrans swinging back and forth all in perfect time, and the dead straight line of men moving as one. It was a first time for me and I never forgot it. And I found out they had made a film with an
American in it along side John Mills in 1937 called O.H.M.S. Then came some very interesting events, like we had to supply a guard of honour to king George the sixth as he opened the king George the fifth memorial chappel not far from Aldershot. Also we got to go on the rifle range and one of the tests was as follows. You would lay down a thousand yards away from the targets shoot five rounds the jump up and run with full pack and equipment to the eight hundred yard marker, fire five more rounds at the target then jump up and run to the five hundred yard marker flop down again and fire five more rounds into the target.
Then you could have a rest and wait to see what the score was.
The only run in I had with the instructor was the day when I put five rounds through four holes and the bloke in the butts waved the flag for my last shot which indicated I had missed with my last shot, no way. So the instructor said "I want to see you at the miniture range" when we finish here, got it". So we reported to the small bore (.22) range when we got back and the instructor wound out five targets to the maximum of the range. Then he said to me "o.k., I want you to put one round only in each target". I did, and the instructor collected the targets and put them together and looked through the hole in the middle and while it was'nt round, it was leaf shaped, but it did prove that all the rounds had indeed hit the center of the target. The instructer said "ther's no doubt about it, you aught to put in for an extra threepence a day and get a crossed rifles badge, that signifies you are a first class shot".
I got a leave to go home for couple of weeks and, having borrowed a civvy outfit from a mate, was more confident going down to the news agent for a paper, but even then I could not win. Mum, dad, and my sister audrey went to the Oxford cinema one evening and Pathe put a news reel up on the screen, and the opening shot was of me in the front row marching toward the camera when the king opened the memorial chapel down near Aldershot. Our Audrey jumped up and down saying "ooh look there's our Tom". Every body in the cinema turned and looked, I tried to squirm under the seat. Apart from that, nothing out of the ordinary happened. There were no wrecks and nobody drowning, in fact nothin' to laugh at at all, (to quote Stanley Hollaway).
When I got back off leave some one said a bloke called Haweshaw wanted me to shoot against him on the miniature range. I found out it was every thursday night you could go to the miniture range from seven p.m. to ten p.m. You could pay six pence to go in and participate or just watch. So this particular thursday night Bob and I went to see what it was all about and it wasn't long before I found out which one was Hawke as they called him. He was at the firing point just getting up and maybe because they had regulars there and we were fresh faces he came straight over and asked "which of you is Tom Barker". I said I was and he said "I'm supposed to be the best shot here but I hear you can shoot pretty good and I thought maybe to make an interesting night we could have a shoot off, these blokes can't wait to see me get beat cos I bin
winnin for about six months now".
It came about that there was a kitty and blokes would shoot in pairs then the winner would shoot
against the other pairs winner and so on till only two remained the winner of this shoot off would
pocket about ten bob. So the evening started off with everybody banging away at the little targets which were wound out to represent eight hundred yards and it was not long before there was just Hawkeshaw and
myself. We got to the stage where the target was wound out to represent one thousand yards and
we were just wasting ammo so Hawkeshaw decided to make it difficult and taking out a silver
treepenny peice, stuck it upright in some chewing gum on a match box and wound it out "there try
that" he said so I hit it then he hit it, so we put it up side ways so just the edge was showing, I hit
it and he missed and the hut errupted. Hawke scowled as I pocketed the ten bob and I hoped I
had not made an enemy.
Later when I met him he was amiable enough, I think it had only been dissapointment of the
moment. I did not go back again it was boring and not interesting enough for me. It was not long after that I found myself on the troopship HMT. Summersetshire bound for Palestine. As we left the quayside the band was playing old lang syne. For a while I stood at the rail and watched as the people waving and wiping tears got smaller and smaller, until I was looking at the wake of the ship and in the misty distance the land was almost gone. Finally I made a move down to where we were billeted and was there shewn how to rig and stow a hammock, talk about a hal roach comedy. One bloke had got his hammock rigged and jumped
into it only to roll straight out again on the other side and hit the deck with a thud. A sailor who had watched this charade came forward and said "look mate, it's this easy", and reaching up he grabbed two pipes over head and with a little skip lifted his body into the hammock and eased down into it. So for the next ten minutes everybody was leaping in and out of hammocks ,and most fell out again. The sailor had done it before, we had'nt. But lots of bruises later we got used to it, and one thing I learned was you never get sea sick in a hammock, well I did'nt.
We had to still do guard duty or fire duty as it was called on the ship and we were told to keep our eyes open. I think that was a laugh because it was us who got the eye opener. I was supposed to patrol this passage way down in the bowels of the ship and off the passage were all these doors leading to cabins. I stood there on guard, bored stiff when this young lady came bouncing down stairs and with her nose stuck up in the air like a snorkel she glided to one of these doors and went into to the cabin. A bit later another wench came down and she took a key from her purse and let herself into a cabin and closed the door. An hour went slowly by and I was leaning against the wood panelling. It was quite warm down in the passage way so I had to move or I could easily have sat on the floor and fell asleep due to the quiet murmer of the engines and the movement of the boat. So rather than be tempted to sit, I walked about to stay awake and at the point where I was at the bottom of the stairs an officer came down with a young lady on his arm (no it was'nt a tattoo). She was actually walking beside him and she smiled at me and said "hello". The officer did'nt know I was there. Then they both dissapeared into one of the cabins. For a while all was quiet then another officer came down the stairs and going to one of the doors tapped gently on it. It opened and he slipped through and the door closed. Then there were some giggling noises for a while, then all was quiet again. About an hour went by and one of the doors opened and out came this young officer and with a furtive glance hurried to the stairway and up to the next deck. As my relief came to take over from me, another bloke in a naval officers uniform went into the same cabin as the young lieutenant had left and the giggling started again. I said to the bloke who was taking over watch from me "it's going to be a long night" and I thought about the bisto kids stood outside the baker's window drooling over all the cream cakes.
One time of the day was when over the tannoy a voice would announce cooks to the galley for grog and a bloke would appear a little later with a dixie full of rum which he would put down on the deck, then dish it out with a little ladle. When I got mine in my tin mug I hesitated to drink it as I had never tasted rum before, and suddenly this matlo next to me who had downed his grabbed my tin mug and said, "yu'avent got toim tu admire it, ger it down yer afore some barsted loik me nicks it.
Well I got to my hammock without mishap but decided to have a look on deck, it had been warm and stuffy down stairs so a breath of fresh air before bed I thought. The sky was like a dark velvet cushion with thousands of little holes in it where tiny flickering lights were shining through, and a moon throwing its light across the heaving sea which looked black and cold. The foamy wake from the ships bow went sliding by to disappear round the sten of the ship, there were one or two bods looking over the rail. I suddenly realised this was quite different to the Humber ferry. On this ship you were looking down at water that was thirty feet away. On the ferry if some one fell over board you could be wet through from the splash, but
here if some one fell over the side the ship would be one pace forward before they hit the water. The chances of being seen in the dark, let alone rescued, were slim. I looked round the horizon and realised how alone a ship is on a journey like this, nothing but the black sea all around no land or other lights, just the dark unknown. I went to bed and my first night in a hammock was not the success I'd hoped for, if you try to turn like in a normal bed you finish up on the hard deck. After a couple of nights you get the hang of it and things get back almost to normal.
Then we had to have boat drill, this p.o. came into our area and said "right pay attention, when you hear this whistle blown thus", and he blew the whistle three shrill blasts, "you will double over to that life boat over there", he pointed to the nearest life boat "and you will not try to get into it, you will fall in in front of it and remain quietly still until told other wise, any questions, any body here does'nt speak English, o.k. then" and he walked away. Some of the blokes were looking puzzled "is that it then". "oi dunno, oi ain't never dun this afore, dummy". About an hour later this whistle blows three sharp short blasts and theres this p.o. screaming "get to the boat, get to the boat." Having finally got all the bods he could see to the boat and lined up he looked us over and muttered something about jamming a fire cracker up our stern. I gathered he was not impressed with our performance, so we had to do it again, then again and again. Then to cap it off there he was at two in the morning blowing three short sharp blasts on his whistle, and some body suggested we aught to ram the whistle where he was going to ram the fire cracker. Another voice said "roight then, oi'll 'old 'im whoil yew do'es thaat". "We wus jokin' teddo". This bloke was built like a grizzly bear, that's why he got the nickname teddy, funny thing, no one ever got in front of him in the breakfast queue. I noticed none of the n.c.o.s ever corrected him, he was never in a fight. I think because of his size he did'nt have to prove anything, I think he was one of these gentle giants. We did'nt know it then, but he would be killed on a march to another camp while a p.o.w. in Germany because he carried a piano accordian for one of the blokes who was going to drop it on the road side because he could carry it no further, his name was. G.B. Here's to you Teddo. Anyway this p.o. shows us how to take off the tarp that is covering the boat and then we have to get into it and sit still. We practiced this and every aspect of abandon ship without actually doing the launching. Actually it's just as well, because the speed the ship was doing we would have been surfing in no time at all.
The days were getting warmer I noticed then a bloke said we were calling in at Gibralter. If you wanted to buy things like cotton or writing paper or mabye a bar of chocolate, you had to keep your eye on the ships notice board, it would tell you when the shop was open. The shop being a porthole above a long latted seat on the boat deck, so it was with no surprise when I decided to purchase a bar of cadbury's nut and fruit this day to find a long queue standing on this seat waiting for the shop to open so I could not be bothered. I looked over the side and watched the flying fish leaping out of the water and gliding along like birds. At the front of the ship I could see porpoise speeding along seemingly without effort now and again breaking the surface of the water. Of course, we were on the move east so it was going to get warmer. Little did I know how warm it was going to get.
Then some bright spark had us practice the bren gun. A rope was let out at the stern of the ship
with a target tied to it and it would be bobbing around in the wake of the ship. If we aimed at it
the bullerts would strike the water about fifty feet in front of the target as was meant to be, but
some clever dicks aimed a bit higher and soon there was no target left, it was just shredded to
match wood. So a new target had to be wound out, and this went on until they got sick of
replacing the targets or they run out of boxes.
So we called in at Gib and we were allowed to go into the town and see the sights and looking
across the water we could plainly see the coast of Africa. We also went to the wire, this was the
border between Spain and Gibralta, the British sentry on this side and the Spanish police with the
back of the hat turned up on the other side of the wire. We spent about a week there and when
finally we left the doctor on the ship had a few more clients clamouring for his expertise. "Clap"
he said to one bloke, so the bloke clapped his hands together and the doc said it's too late doing
that, you've already got it. "Shit" said the bloke "would'nt suprise me" said the doc. Then I heard some one say "We aught to be zig zagging" and a second voice replied "that’s how he got the clap. No said the first voice I meant the boat should be zig zagging. Never did make sense of that but I remember it.
One day one of our blokes fell asleep on the deck and the sun was blazing down and some body happened to spot him after he had been there a couple of hours and he was awakened and taken straight to the medical center with sun burn damage to his legs arms and face. He could not see because his face was puffed up so much it closed his eyes and his arms and legs looked like they had plastic bags wrapped round them full of water, the water was actually under his skin. He was in pain and had to be sedated.
We all learned a valuable lesson from this episode.
Then came the day we sailed into the harbour at Hiafa. The thing that sticks out in my memory of
this place was, as we were waiting to dock this little boat full of oranges was being sculled across
the water to us by this scruffy looking Arab. As we looked way down at him he was yelling "oarang ges orang ges, eggs a' bred,eggs a' bred, very nice very sweet". As he was shouting the ship's crane was lowering some cases of small tins of bully beef. One fell out of the net they were in. The wooden case hit the deck causing all bods in the immediate area to vacate the site immediately. The wooden crate had smashed open and one of our more enterprising mates grabbed some tins of bully and was soon bartering with Achmed in the little boat. Achmed threw oranges up onto the boat deck and some more of our blokes caught on so they in turn grabbed tins of bully and hurled them at Achmed's little boat. Achmed was soon screaming, la, la, efendi mafeesh bully (no, no, sir no more bully). But alas, it was already too late, the little boat had still a lot of oranges on it, now it was over loaded with tins of bully and with a little gurgle it settled in the water. With the arab cursing us to the heavens he stood upright as the little boat slowly sank beneath him. Then a voice piped "I hope he can swim?". I looked round to see who had compassion for this unknown arab. Well he had lost his boat and been bruised by the bully tins to boot. I saw this bloke stood at attention and was saluting the little boat as it sank and with his mouth made like a bugle sounding the last post. Then this officer came and did we cop it. The last we saw of the arab was one of his friends had picked him up and was now rowing him ashore. Then this bloke who had been in India said to us "it's better to make friends than enemies when you are living in their country, bear it in mind you lads", and walked away. I suppose he had a point. So then we were along side the quay side and landing gear was wheeled out and finally we got off the ship and formed up on the quay side. We were then directed to these grey coloured busses, each bus would seat thirty bods.
By the way the day before we docked we had been issued with fifty rounds of live ammo .303. The rifle and bayonet had been issued in Aldershot, this I can remember because it was on the shooting range I had zeroed my rifle and I clearly recollect the sergeant saying "do it good laddie, that's going to save your life one day, it's the best friend you'll ever have". But at Aldershot the only ammo we ever used was given to us on the range only and that was five rounds only at any one time. Not only that, but any you did not use you had to give back, you had to give back the empty brass cases or live rounds. So to suddenly be in possesion of fifty rounds to go with what had been so far just a drill piece made you feel more secure.
It also made you realise you were carrying on your shoulder some thing that most Arabs would give their eye teeth for so you stayed alert. This got to be a habit and it is one of the things that stays with you the rest of your life, even asleep you are awake in a jif at the whisper of sound that is different to normal. This may sound a bit dramatic or theatrical to most people but when you have actualy seen evidence of how primitively savage some of these people can be, you do tend to veer in the direction of caution where they are concerned.
A favourite pastime with a prisoner was to remove certain parts of the body, stuff them in to the bloke's mouth, then sew the mouth shut with camel hair and leave him on the sand in the hot sun. A variant of this practice was to slice open the stomack and remove the gut and replace it with camel dung again sewing it in and leaving the unfortunate bloke to expire under the sun. Equaly unpleasant was to be peeled alive, this took a long time and was usually done by women.
But to more pleasant things, we always kept in mind what the Indian walla said "keep the last round for your self". We eventually got on to these little busses and the convoy of about seven busses trundelled off
the quay side and headed for the hills we could see through the shimmering heat in the distance. As we left the populated area and the hills got nearer the road ran near to one of these hills. Suddenly the busses were stopping and bods were spilling out and running behind rocks for cover, whistles were blown and somebody was screaming "take cover". We did and we lay there on the ground peering round this big rock and I was scanning the top of the hill to see if a head would pop up, after about half an hour we were told to get on the bus again. It had been a practice drill and I noticed most blokes had wet patches under their arms and a big wet patch on the back of the shirt. At first it was uncumfortable but we gradualy got
used to it.
We arrived at this place called Jenin, a village at the base of some hills. We by passed the village and arrived at the camp which was at the bottom of one of these hills and entered the gate and found ourselves in this huge compound surrounded by a tall wire fence. So this was Jenin camp, we got off the bus and the voice said "right fall in." So we made three ranks, and the voice said "don't nobody not move till I find out were we is all goin' " so off he trots and minutes later he comes back and with a "roight pick up yer parrits and monkey's an' foller me". A voice said "yea some body said that two thousand years ago an' look what happened to him". "What did happen to him"? some dim wit asked. "Well they on'y pinned 'im to a tree din'
they". "Who did"? "Them dick 'eds in the tempul" came the reply. "What tempul was that then,?" and
a choir of voices suddenly erupted with "aw shaddap".
So we were led to this wooden barrack room and we picked a bed each and then we had to go
to the stores and collect three biscuits. These were shaped like a cream cracker but were about
tree feet square and four inches thick and three put together made up the length of the bed, so
with these and a pillow, two sheets and two blankets, plus one mosquito net, we lumbered back to
our barracks and got our bed made up. Having done that, we were itching to have a look round
but the sergeant put paid to that, "you'se lot are as filthy as pigs, get this barracks cleaned up, we
are having an inspection by the c.o. ter morrer and woe betide the bloke who lets me down, and
turning on his heel was gone so quickly he missed hearing "up yours" from various parts of the hut.
However on the morrow the c.o. did inspect. We passed the inspection despite the fact the bloke with brown marks on his moustash who was his next in command had on these white cotton gloves and was running his finger up and down window sills. It did not seem to impress the sergeant so in our eyes he was to remain a proper Richard, in short 'dick'.
Orders are posted early every morning and you make it your business to read them come what may. If your name is there and you don't read it you don't know what you are doing the next day, so if you miss a parade or guard you have only yourself to blame. They don't have any wet nurses in the army so you have always to be on your toes. So we read today, that tomorrow, all the personel of company 'b' would parade in full kit prior to moving to a little village in the hills called Uhm il Fahm. We got on to these Morris thirty hundred weight trucks the following morning and set off down the tarmac road. Then the tarmac ended and we were going along this dusty track and the powdery dust was soon choking every thing and every body. It was like travelling through a fog made of white flour. After a long and bumpy ride gears were changed and with a high pitched whining the trucks began to climb up this track that wound its way up the hill. Then the trucks halted in this small camp on top of the hill. The hill top was fenced in by barbed wire and at each point that is n.e.s.w. of the compass there was a stone parapet or firing step so all sides of the hill were covered.
The trucks had stopped just inside the gate so as we got off we passed the guard room, then the
canteen, followed by the officers quarters. The nco's had a little room at the end of our barracks which were two bungalows of wood side by side at the far end from the gate. The gate was made up of a long bit of wood with a cross at each end and surrounded with barbed wire. A bloke with heavy leather gloves would lift one end and swing it open so we could get through. We did the usual make up our bed routine and clean the hut. By the way the naafi canteen doubled as a dining hall. In the cool of the evening we had a look round and to one side of a fence were tethered four mules. We were informed by those that knew that these were used when it rained a lot and the trucks could no longer grip the wet slippery ground, because all our washing and food etc had to come from Jenin with an armed escort. I also found out that this camp had been on the hill opposite but because it was attacked so often some bright bod had suggested it be moved to where it now was and it would no longer be attacked because a mukta (head man or holy man) was buried in a small white building with a dome on it just out side our wire. We went and had a perv but it was nothing to rave about, just a small square box with a dome on top.
During the day one sentry walked round the camp clockwise and another walked anti clock so
each turn of the camp would have the sentries pass each other. At night it was the same exept the sentries were doubled so two would walk together clockwise and so on.
One night it was my turn to be on sentry with this bloke called Smith and we had just passed the
other pair going the opposite way and it was bright moonlight and we were nearing the sheik's
tomb and this rocky fire wall when this white shape reared up behind the fire wall. After two
audible gasps and the sound of two safety catches being snapped off this thing disappeared with
a cackling laugh and as we watched it lope down the hill. We realised we'd nearly shot a laughing
At night and early dawn there was always a faint minty smell in the air and I noticed sometimes
patches of wild peas which were good to chew on. The day watches were terrific I really did not mind being on guard during the day, you were on your own and with a pair of powerful binocs you could sweep the horizon and some times see ghostlike figures moving through wavering heat. One day I saw a light flashing in the far distance and the light was so bright it had to be a heliogragh so I called the guard room and the sigs bloke came out and for about quarter of an hour they were going at it hammer and tongs, the product of this exchange meant that the next day we were to go out to a village to protect the mukta (head man). It appeared we had been informed by one of our paid Arab informers that the mukta was about to be kidnapped and held for ransome. Trouble was when people were kidnapped and the bandits paid, the victims were usually found with their throats cut. So the next evening we set out in three Morris fifteen hundred weight trucks (the ones with a wedge shaped bonnet) and after several miles and because it was getting dark, (we did'nt want to advertise with our engine noise) we de bussed and formed up in three ranks and marched till about two in the morning and we came to this village. "Right split up and find a place to hide and we were directed to form a loose circle round the mukta's mud hut. I found a hut with lots of straw in it and as I buried myself in the straw I found there were already two of our blokes hiding there so once we had sorted out who was where we settled down to a quiet wait. And the time dragged on as the moon moved the shadows and made us more alert. Quiet was the key on a job like this and I was so busy listening that when the straw near me moved a little I ignored it until a second later when I realised that there should have been no one there a donkey stuck it's head out and "au,eeee, auu, eee auw," and a voice from across the road whispered hoarsly "right, the bloke playin' that mouf organ is on a charge".
Anyway the bandits did not show up so it was a wasted exersise, but we did get invited into the
mukta's house and we had these doll's house size cups of very strong coffee, very sweet and
washed down with water. But better still we did not have to march back, the trucks were pulled up out side and we jumped in and were whisked, a very dusty whisking, back to camp.
We jumped off the trucks and got fell in, this was the usual routeen. We were then told by the
officer "good show chaps it was'nt our fault we did'nt bag any baddies better luck next time, what?" you may dismiss the men sergeant, "thank you sirr, up, two, three, (salute) down squad dismiss". So we took off for the naafi and a cold drink of assis. I asked one bloke if he wanted a drink of assis and he asked "ass's wot"? I explained it was the local naafi cool no alco drink made up of mixed citrus fruit juice, "yea I suppose". "Well I said since I'm paying for it I won't twist your arm" so we sat and cooled off " then went back to the barrack room and some wrote letters home some wrote in diaries others got out photo albums and had a browse.
One day Sgt L. detailed five of us to go out side the wire into the mule enclosure and curry comb
the mules, "and don't stand behind them or you could get a kick in the nuts". So we wandered out
to the mules and having finished the job we decided to have a ride on one so one of the blokes
untied one of the mules and he emmediatly took off down the hill trailing the rope. The bloke was
running after him to bring him back when Sgt L appeared yelling "leave the stupid mule and get
back here, there could be wogs in those trees just waiting for some body like you to cut up into
little pieces, we can get another mule just remember that, alright". So thus ended our cowboy era.
I woke up the next morning and felt uncomfortable, little wonder, I had the hard corner of a Gold
Flake cigarette carton poking me in the ribs. When I put it on my pillow thinking it was'nt time
for Santa Claus yet the bloke in the next bed said put it in your locker it's nicked, we've all got a
carton, the naafi was robbed last night. The sad part of that little episode was I did'nt smoke.
The rifles were all stood in a very heavy wooden bracket which was scewed to the floor with big
bolts that had been hammered over so they could not be undone and once the rifle was in the
rack a steel rod was fed through all the trigger guards and throught the wooden frame then a
heavy padlock was locked on at the other end and the key was hidden. All equipment was so arranged it was ready to be stepped into at a moments notice, some times day or night whistles would be blown and you had to stand to. That meant the men from this hut would man the stone parapets pointing north and east and the men from the next hut would man the parapets facing south and west, and two bren guns were mounted at each parapet. So if the hill was attacked there were eight bren guns and about thirty rifles pointing out from the barbed wire. I thought it would be a bit like a fox having a go at a hedgehog if some one was mad enought to attack the camp, but no one ever did so the bloke who thought about changing
hills aught to have got a medal.
One day we had to go out on a stunt, (stunt was a short way of saying operation) everybody
used this jargon. This stunt was to be a bigger one than the usual stunts in that it was going to
employ all of our regiment, detachments of the Palestine police, the Loyals regiment which was
a cavalry mob, the trans Jordan police and some of Queen's regiment. We were trucked to
certain points then had to deploy the area so that we had command of the valley that ran for
miles toward the Syrian border. On this occasion I had been relegated to the bren gun but I did
not mind because at least I did'nt have to march with it, a bren can get heavy after a few miles.
So our lot from Um il Fahm found ourselves sitting on this hot rock way up over the valley and it
was not unpleasant. There was a cool breeze blowing from my left and I lay back on the rock and
moved quickly to a patch of grass, the rock was too hot to stay on. I was just feeling drowsy
when some body said "have you ever seen two shepherds with one lot of sheep?" Someone else
said "sneaky sod, he's goin' ter ger away ifn 'es a bandit, then the officer said " put a round over
his head Sergeant but don't hit him he may not be a bandit." So the segeant aims his rifle in the direction
of the sheep and' bang' and we all gawked to see were the dust would fly up but there was none and the officer said "try again Sergeant". "Yessir", and bang again and nothing happened the bloke in front of the sheep was iether deaf or he had an iron nerve and the bloke at the back did'nt take any notice. Then the officer got a bit testy and said "bren gunner see how close you can get to the leading man but don't hit him". I moved the lever to single shots and squinted down the sight and began to time his walk at the same time
putting the sights to five hundred yards because it was downhill and with the breeze on my left
cheek. I waited till he was lifting his back leg and I aimed about a foot in front of where he was
about to put his foot and squeezed the trigger there was a bang and as the bloke put his foot on
the ground it was like he had sprung a trap as the bullet hit the rocky ground about three inches
from his foot. It ricocheted with buzz like an angry hornet and dust flew up as the bloke leapt out
of his shoes and into the air. I've never seen it before or since but he some how turned while
up in the air and as he came down with his legs going he was running back the way he had come
leaving this pair of shoes on the ground. As he passed the bloke at the back he joined him and
they both got behind an enormous boulder. "Shit that was close" and the officer said "you took
your time". I replied "I did'nt want to hit him in the foot sir". The sergeant said quietly "that was
a good shot laddie". Well at least I had pleased somebody. Then we had to send an odd shot or
two at this big boulder to make them come out but they would not budge so I said to the Srgt how
about aiming at the other boulder alongside and the splash should make them a bit nervous. So
the Srgt said something to the officer and the officer said loudly "good thinking Srgt, right you
men fire at the side of that other boulder and that will flush them out", and it did. Soon a white
headress was being waved and the firing stopped. When they felt safe they came out, and
one of them was a bandit. So we collected fifty pounds bounty money, (it went into reg funds). I bet some shepherd found a pair of come in handy shoes.
We got back to camp and were ready for a cold drink. That night we had a call out and I heard some one say "it's for real". So we stood to at the stone walls and listened and watched. I looked up at the milky way and across at the hills and marvelled at how clear every thing was, just like a dull day in England, but the sparkling stars and the deep blue sky and add to that the luminance of the milky way and it's like fairyland frozen in time. There is little wonder Omer Kyam and others who waxed lyrical were moved to poetic lines
and tales of Arabian nights, the Red Shadow, Ali Baba and the forty thieves, the majic lamp etc, this place begged to be written about. It must have been three o'clock in the morning when the order was whispered to stand down and as we relaxed we found we were ready for sleep so we trundelled back into the barracks thankful but maybe a bit dissapointed some thing had not happened. As we were getting settled the sgt
came in and said "you lads can have till midday to catch up on your sleep compliments of the
lieutenant" and with that shut the door. I was almost asleep when someone whispered "listen" and of course we all became fully awake at once, then a voice from a bed said "for christ sake get to sleep yu dawsy sod it's only the sentrys goin' past out side the winder, shit some mother's do ave' 'em" and with an angry snort turned over and banged his head into his pillow and said some more profanities which we could
not interpret because of the pillow.
The next day we all, well most of us, went to the gate to welcome some new blokes just come out
from England and they helped to fill up the two huts, and one day in the canteen one of these
lads pulled out a harmonica the type with a slide action so you could play the half notes. His name was Jimmy Young and he sat in a corner of the canteen and was playing this catchy tune I had'nt heard before, turned out to be 'South of the border down Mexico way'. I meandered over and asked him if I could join him with my guitar, he was highly diluted and suggested I go fetch it immediatly if not sooner, to which I complied with elacrity. When I got back he said it was all the rage in Britain, latest tune out.
I had not had this guitar long so actually I was a bit of a novice with it but after half an hour
plugging at this new tune we began to make some pleasant noises between us. It was not
long before drinks started to appear on our table and we did'nt have to pay for them. So we
played quite often and we never bought another drink and my guitar playing improved no end.
The next day I was on guard and it was a hot day but out side a breeze made it pleasant to be
out rather than be in a stuffy and a wild pea (a small bush) was moving in the breeze.
Then I looked again out of the corner of my eye, because I thought I saw something behind it. I made slowly for the nearest fire wall and suddenly crouched down, then I yelled to the
guard room and the Sgt came dashing out. He dashed back and got binocs then came to me
and said what‘s up and where". I steered his gaze to the bush and what ever was behind it. At first he thought it was a dog then he got focused and said it’s a bloody wog an’ he’s in a mess, so a detail went
out and brought in the Arab.
It turned out he was an informer and he had been caught by the p.l.o. The boss was a bloke
called Usef Hamdon and he had a price on his head. But this bloke had escaped during the night
and had walked miles to our camp and he had made it to our front gate. He was picked up and
carried into the first aid hut. He talked, and it was not long before the heliogragh was flickering
morse to Jenin and Jenin was replying. About half an hour went by then whistles were blown
"right, side arms and light pack, move, collect dry rations at the guard room. So we skittled to our
barracks and before you could say "stroll nonchalantly to starboard" we were back and lined up
ready to get on truck. "Right, on truck" and we scrambled aboard the Morris with a wedge shaped
nose and with two more in convoy set off through the gate down the hill. We hoped someone
could see and knew where we were going because we could'nt. The floury dust was every where
and if the driver took off his goggles he had a snow white face and a pink mask round his eyes.
However we stopped after a while and we got off the trucks and dusted our self down and
cleaned around the bolt of our rifles so they did not jam when loading. We were then detailed
were to lie down and look over this valley, to our right we suddenly heard shooting in the
distance and it sounded like it was coming from the village. Two figures suddenly appeared
running along the opposite side of the valley, the range would have been a thousand yards so
they appeared small not much bigger than the fore sight on my rifle. The officer said "any one
leaving the village is a bandit or p.l.o. and if they keep running after warning shots shoot to kill,
We did and they did keep running so we aimed direct and they fell down. Then a solitary Arab
was walking along the same track. Above him now suddenly appeared one of our mounted
Loyals regiment and he could not see over the lip of the valley enough to see this Arab. It was
obvious the Arab had seen him because he suddenly crouched down and pulled out a pistol and
was waiting for the mounted trooper to get nearer. We were too far away for him to hear us
shouting so we homed in on the Arab hoping to get him before the trooper got too close, then it
was hard to tell what really happened. I waited because the Arab and the trooper were in line of
sight and if I aimed too high I could hit the trooper so as soon as the Arab was to one side I let
go. The way I remember it was the Arab rose up to get a clear shot with his pistol just as the
trooper spotted him, and as quick as a flash whipped out his pistol and aimed. I think then one of
our shots got the Arab because he jerked like he had been hit and if indeed he did get a shot off
it missed the trooper. Then the trooper hit him with three shots from his pistol and he fell and laid still. We waited to see if any more bandits were around and after about an hour the all clear was
given so we thought "goody, we can go home now and have a nice cold assis in the canteen", but
not so fast, "you, you, and you, (that was me and two other blokes near me), get those sand bags
and collect that lot". Well we got the sand bags and went over to see what we had to collect, body
parts. We had to pull a sand bag down over the body of this arab and because it only covered to
the waist we had to pull another over his legs then tie string round the middle. The next dead arab
was in three parts, he had been caught across the middle with a bren gun and been cut in half so
we put half a body in one sack and the other half in another sack. His intestines which having
been damaged by bullets were leaking and a very unpleasant smell greeted us as we wrestled
with them to get them into another sack. Some of the others we had to scrape up with a shovel and bag it like so much dog meat. The smell of burst intestines and the flies did'nt help, one of the officers was at the side of the track puking and very pale and he was soon joined by others who walked up to see what was going on. I must admit I was glad when it was done, it was unpleasant but necesarry.
Then suddenly we were being stoned. Some of these rocks being hurled at us by the irate
villagers were the size one one's fist and they came a bit heavy. It was a good job we were
wearing tin hats or we would have had some casualties. As it was some of the blokes copped a
few nasty bruises. Then this officer on a horse yelled out an order and the cavalry moved in
amongst the villagers and drawing sabres they waded into them using the flat of the sword. Soon
there were no more stones as the people fled the scene and were chased toward the village
where they disspersed and hid indoors to get away from those flailing swords.
Some one remarked "bloody lovely ain' it, yu comes 'ere tu rescue em from bloody baddies 'an
that's the bloody thanks yu get, soddin' rocks in the head". "Sod the bloody wogs, wot say you
Malc?". "Aye laddie, ah quite agrree wi ye, stuff the wogs" chirped this red haired highlander
rubbing a bruise on his arm. Then he brightened up, and with a smile crimping his face now
as he heard the cash till in his brain adding up the bounty to be collected on this little lot
regardless of the fact it would go into the coffers of our regimental institute (p.r.i.). "We could
even ge'et a buckshee leave out 'o thes' wee lot did ye no ken thaat laddie". I said "yea, and
pigs might fly". "Och ye hevni gote ony faith in the sestem, that's wot's wrang wi' ye, ahm awa"
and discusted with my lack of enthusiasm for the system he walked away to ear bash any one
else who would lend him a sympathetic ear.
Bob Moat sauntered over "what's up wi' red?". I said "he thinks he's entitled to a leave just for
doing the job he gets paid to do. You would be surprised at how many blokes think they are
entitled to extras just for doing this job. Any way if there were any gratuities the officers would be
in like a shot, and knowing the majority of that lot you would'nt get a look in. Have you noticed
how the trucks carry their cold boxes full of whiskey and soda, and we have to manage on half a
bottle of water with bloody tablets in it so it is drinkable, and it's always warm. What's up with
him"? One of our blokes had copped a small rock under his tin hat and it had cut into his face so
he was being assisted to the medical truck, they would put stiches in it. Bob and I stood
watching a bloke from the Queens regiment came over and we gleaned a bit more from him.
It appeared an informer had alerted the palestine police that the head man and his family were to
be kidnapped so the police asked for assistance from the army because the area mentioned
needed more men than they could muster, the terrain being so hilly it would put the police at risk
so this is why it was a joint operation and it was a success. The arab shot by the bloke on the horse
turned out to be oooooo we were told. Everybody got a verbal pat on the back and we were happy just to trot back to Um il Fahm and get the harmonica out along with the guitar and that evening after a shower.
The shower by the way was an ex petrol tin with alot of little holes made in the bottom with a hammer and
a nail and above it was another petrol tin on a pivot so when you want a shower you take with you a petrol tin of water, climb the ladder, tip your water into the top petrol tin then come down and get under the shower and pull the string a little and the top tin will tip a little water into the tin with the holes in it then you soap
up and when you are satisfied you are clean you can tip the rest of the water into the tin which
has the holes and you get rinsed off.
We sat in the canteen with a table full of soft drinks and went south of the border. Just as we
had finised the tune, this bloke comes in gets a pint of beer and "how about south of the border"
as he slouched into a seat. So we played s.o.b.again just for him then some one said "do you
know Nellie Dean". I said "yea she's old enough to be my gran," off the cuff but every body
roared. So just for the hell of it I started to sing Nellie Dean just like a drunk would on the cinema,
drawling it out, they all joined in that was the first time I had dared to sing but no one threw
any thing like a brick or a bottle so it could not have been that bad. When it was finished we
would get another hopful come forward and and start telling jokes with a bottle in one hand and a
cigerette in the other and half way through the joke he would say "sorry but I dinni ken the endin'
So some one would yell "give us roamin'in the gloamin" and a big cheer would go up then.
Someone else would yell "we've bin roamin in the f----ng gloamin 'ah day lets hey a wee tune
how aboot south of the border, cries of "south of the border" so we played that yet again and I
was now hearing it in my sleep.
This particular night we suddenly were awakened by a bren gun firing and every body stood to,
and fully equipped, raced to our fire step and at one of the fire steps was a Sgt who had been in
India, he was also grogged up, full as a boot. "There they go he screamed and swung the bren
round in a wide arc while leaning on the trigger. Earth was spouting into the air and we got ready
to duck in case he continued to sweep to his right but he began to go the other way. That was
when Sgt L hit him and got two blokes to carry him to his bed. "And some one stay with him and
if he tries to get up hit him again,". We found out later this had happened before in India, he would
see wogs coming at him from all angles and there was no one there. Two days later he was
moved to Jenin.
One night it was my turn for guard again and in the company of a bloke called Mc'claren. We were
at the end of this bungalow when I saw out of the corner of my eye a slight movement near the
naafi. Now we had just passed the other two sentries going the other way and the first thing I
thought was the shadow was maybe laying in wait for them so I challenged the shadow. It
moved so fast about a hundred yards away toward the next wood hut. I whipped off the
safety catch and took aim the shadow was about to go behind the wood hut so I aimed where he
should be behind the corner of that hut knowing the .303 would go straight through and nail him
good. When we cautiously looked round the corner he was busy picking splinters of wood out
of his face "ye supid b-----d ye just missed me, if it hadna bin for that wee dip in the ground that
would have been in ma heed." "Why did you not respond to the challenge" asked the officer who by now was on the scene and wanted to know what all the ruckus was about. "Och ah dedny hearr hem sur".
Anyway it served him right as we learned he and a mate were going to rob the naafi again, we
never did find out who the other bloke was. But we still would not dob them in but as I said to him later "it could have been a wog on the prowl and I was taking no chances. Those knives they carry are not ornamental and if you had met in the dark you were unarmed you would'nt have stood a chance". "Shit" he said "I didny think aboot thaat"
The next night some body nicked a full barrell of beer and we were all invited to take our mugs
round to the back of 'c' hut. So with a lot of whispering "hev ye got a mallet tae drive in the tap"
"aye wait the noo, wullie ‘es awa tae fetch yin". Willy came back and this bloke got himself in a
stance in front of the barrel looked like he was shaping up to launch the Queen Mary. So having
carfully placed the thin end of the tap he offered the mallet to it then drew back the mallet and
whack, the tap went in and the beer came out. As it blew the tap out again with a bang and every
body infront of the barrel got saturated with bad beer, the lousy beer was off thats why it had
been left out side the naafi. So in a rage because of all the wasted effort this bloke pushed it to
the wire and over it went and it rolled down the hill till it hit a boulder and smashed itself to
pieces. Then we had a barrel to pay for, and no one was put on a charge. Sometimes I since
have pondered why that barrel had not exploded exploded when it was first moved, ah well.
The next day we boiled out our rifles. When a rifle has been fired it has to be cleaned afterwards. It is called a rifle because the steel tube which ejects the nickle and lead ball is rifled so when it is fired the ball spins as it speeds on its way to the target and this spin keeps the ball true. To boil out a rifle you have to have (obviously) boiling water, having removed the magazine, webbing strap or sling, and the bolt you hold the rifle over the bucket of water muzzle down, put a funnel into the breach and pour a couple of pints of boiled water through the barrel. Then immediatly while still hot using a pull through and clean four by two cotton wad you keep feeding this through the barrel until it comes out clean. Then you dab a little oil on the wad and pull that through. Then put the thing back together and lock it up. Then tomorrow you must again pull a clean wad through and re oil because for the next couple of days your rifle will sweat. You
have to take care of it and like any other tool, if you want the best from it you have to look after it.
We lost track of time so when sunday came round and we had no parades. We would lay around
on our beds in the bungalow and tell jokes and of course each joke got coarser than the last one. It was'nt long before the hut would be full of laughter and foul language, then things would
quiet down as we run out of steam. Some would drift off and have forty winks others would
drift off and have a quick fifty (cards), while a few would sit and write a letter home. "Dear
mother, I was going to send you ten bob but iv'e sealed the emvelope" love dik.
We got our water from a well at foot of the hill, actually it was at the foot of both hills and this
dusty road that ran past it led to the village of Um il Fahm. The drill was, before the water
wagon (which was a fifteen hdwht Morris commercial with an oval shaped water tank on the
back) set off to collect water the sentry would keep his eye on the arab women collecting water in their jugs and pots. When they had gone for the day he would give the ok for the truck to set
off, that way we minimised the risk of being poisened. And so it was that on one of these water filling
jaunts I was picked along with another bloke to go along as escort. "You and you, side arms and rifle,
water escort now, outside move,". So we got onto the escort truck and sat in the hot sun until we got the o.k. from the sentry. Then our truck followed the water truck down the hill in third gear all the way. When we reached the bottom of the hill we both lurched as the driver put it in top and we speeded up a bit. This churned up the powdery dust but we were used to it and had already got eye shields and hanky round our
When we stopped at the well the drill was while the driver and his mate filled the water truck
from the well with a bucket and rope we two in the escort truck had to climb the other hill so we
could make sure no one could climb the the other side and get the drop on the water wagon. Also
the driver of our truck sat ready with a bren gun and his mate kept lookout the other way. This way
we were pretty well covered because we were also still in sight and range of our camp so the
weak link was up the back of the other hill which we were now covering. While looking around I
saw some wild grapes and I said "look at that, grapes". "Aw ah reckon they's saur mate" said my
mate. But I had already picked a bunch that were laying on the ground when my mate said "shit
that's a snake". I looked down "where" and he said "on yer 'and". There wriggling away on
the first knuckle of my right hand was what looked like a little black eel about ten inches long. I
put my hand to the ground and putting my foot on it I ground it into the earth then wiped my hand
with the hanky and sucked at the tiny pin pricks on my knuckle and spit it out.
When it was time to go I got a few more grapes to take to the lads. With a last look round we
got off the hill and on to the truck. As soon as we got back I went to the medical orderly and
he put iodine on it and said "I would'nt worry about it, come tomorrow you'll have forgotten it ever
happened", thinking he was Jesus I forgot about it. Then it appears that during the night I got out
of bed and hung one on the Srgt who with two other blokes were trying to tie me down to my bed.
A message was sent to jenin by aldis lamp and it was not long before an ambulance arrived with
escort and I was whisked into Haifa hospital and given a needle. Next morning I woke up to this ordely bringing me a cup of tea and I thought I can put up with this fore a while. However it was not long before he was back with a tray on wheels and he asked "would you mind sticking out your bum". So I stuck out my tongue and I waited for him to say "say aaahh". But instead he said " no, bum" you know what you sit on" and he pointed to his backside. "Oh bum" I said and moving to the bed edge flipped back the sheet and with my thumb in the waist band I dragged down my pygama pants. Quick as a flash he stuck the needle into my backside and I said "oh bum" and then added "you really enjoyed that" cos he had a smirk on his
face like a cheshire cat. "Well" he said with a twinkle in his eye that's the first of fifteen, and I replied with "you must be joking". To which he replied "I kid you not old son , but look at it this
way you can have a nice rest so make the most of it. There are some magazines on the table and
the switch to the fan overhead is there by your bed. And you are in luck they are bringing in some
one so we'll put him next to you and you can keep each other company".
About an hour later this bloke is put in the next bed to me and lo and behold he was an RSM with
a broken ankle. I was wondering if I would have to sleep at attention all night, but he was a
good bloke and we had a good natter, turned out he was in the Liecester regiment.
After about four days and four needles in the bum I was getting bored with just laying there until
this bloke came in. They put him in a bed just in front of us which made it a bit awkward to
talk to him because all we could see was the back of his neck but he was with it. He overcame
this obstacle by asking for a big round shaving mirror and he propped it up so he could now see
us through it with out turning round all the time and getting a crick in his neck. Soon we were
telling jokes and this really broke the ice with the RSM who by the way was old enough to be my
father. The other bloke was a p.t.i.and he had a wee problem with his willy so they got round it by
circumcision, and he was complaining that now it was healing the stiches were pulling his willy all
the time. To which the RSM said "your a lucky lad you're getting it pulled for free we've usually
got to pay for it". Then this female nurse who looked a bit 'schoolmarmish' walked by and said with
such an engaging smile "every thing allright with you boys"? The p.t.i.bloke's bed sheet was
thust up in the middle like a small tent and he threw back the sheet and said "can you do
something about this" and there like a hooded cobra about to strike was this blokes pride and joy. The nurse still smiling sweetly whipped out a long pencil out of her top pocker and without missing a beat
leaned over and struck it smartly across the nose and chirped "try that" and briskly walked away. I looked at the r.s.m. and he looked at me and we both looked at the p.t.i. who was now doubled over and crooning. "Everything comes to he who waits" as he glared after the nurse who was now telling the docter about her encounter with the p.t.i. "Did you feel hysterical" asked the doc. "No" said the nurse "but I gave it a good whack with my pencil".
The next day we all had a good laugh about it when the doc came to take out the stiches, there
was the doc being very diplomatic and as he pulled out a stich and reached for the next one
the p.t.i. would ask him to wait a minute till he could take the pot off the boil so to speak. It
was about an hour later when the doc said "well that's a relief" as he pulled out the last stich. So
did the p.t.i. as he grabbed for the bed bottle almost too late. For a minute he held the
bottle and with a smile alternating with little gasps and with a final sigh of contentment he put the
bottle on the floor. Then with a happy smile he laid back and dozed off, "half his luck" said the
RSM. I said "yea" and picked up a magazine and when I opened it there was a belly dancer
on the first page, so I turned up the fan. The next day they said I could get out of bed, the lump
under my arm was gone but I still had to take the full treatment of needles. My left buttock felt
like a pin cushion so they decided to give it a rest and went for the right one. Well it was'nt so bad
the only thing was though I had been able to sit on one side but now it was painful at first to sit at
Then I was told there was a good movie on in the local cinema but had to be with some one who
was armed. So I tagged on to these three blokes from the Liecesters when I said I knew their
RSM well, and you would have thought I was royalty. Well living like a lord had to come to an end and it was'nt long before I was back in Jenin. Then the powers that be transferred me to 'b' company, so they did'nt have to cart me all the way to Um il Fahm. I found myself a bunk in the 'b' company hut and crashed on it, soon a bloke was round "is there a 252 barker in here". "That's me". "Yer on guard termorrer". "Thanks very much". "Don't mention it". "Right, in future I won't". "Up yours". "Charming".
So I had to set to and clean everything up for guard duty tomorrow. It would'nt have been so bad
but all my gear was manky because I had not used it for almost two months and it had been
transferred while I was in hospital and stuck in a bin in the stores. However I did the guard
without mishap and was glad when it was over. I started running round the compound to get
fit again, it does not take long to get out of shape. The last thing you want to be is off colour if
you have to sort somebody out.
Two days went by nice and quiet and I was begining to think I had come to the right place. An
Arab would come round in the morning "chi walla, chi walla", and all you had to shout was "tala
hena, wahad bust" (come here, one only). And having given you the hot sweet tea, he would hold
out his hand for the money and you would pay him. I found that some blokes had a book with
him and they paid for their tea at the week end when they got paid. When I looked in the
book I saw we had a lord jim, tarzan, nelson, the three bears, goldilocks, chas chaplin, george the
V I . "You want katab efendi"(did I want credit). "La,la", I told him, ana mafeesh faloose, (no,no I
have no money), I was not about to get embroiled in this can of worms, thank you very much.
So I would get my morning tea at the breakfast bar and I did'nt have to pay for it. It was while
walking back from the dining hall one day and there was this big band from the top of the hill
behind the camp. Looking over I could make out smoke coiling into the air. then the whistles
blew. And we were fell in, we marched to the bottom of the hill then went up the hill skirmish
fashion. When we got to the top there were four Arabs laid out on the ground bleeding like
What had happened they had seen us practising with 3inch mortars and tried to copy with some
bits of iron drain pipe. Of course it was not thick enough, and having over loaded it with
explosives and bit of metal and nails etc lit the fuse which was so short they did not have time to
get out of the way in time. When it blew up three of them died. They were in a mess.
Undaunted their mates had a go at sniping the camp at night, and they would wait till the canteen
was all lit up and then open up through the lighted windows, lots of bottles were smashed but we
were lucky no one was hit. While all this is was going on some body had switched all the
lights out which was standard practice when there was a raid at night. When it was over and
things were more or less back to normal the lights would come on and every body's beer would
be gone from the tables. That is the bottles that were not yet opened. As I was on my way
back to the barrack room I heard this clinking noise from behind one of the huts and these four
blokes were really whooping it up with a stash of unopened bottles of beer stuck in the sand."
One of the blokes spotted me and with a lop sided grin burped "come and join us, it's all paid for".
I said "no thanks I don't drink that stuff and you won't be if that lot find you", and I took off. I did'nt
want to get caught up with that lot, some body could get lynched.
Some body had the bright idea "why don't we build a swimming pool"? "yea what a good idea,
so some body went to see the RSM and after he consulted with the boss man he said "o.k. youse
can have that bit of ground near the gate over there". So it came to pass after a lot of digging and sweating we had a hole in the ground about six foot deep and ten feet square. Everybody in camp knew we were making a swimming pool but as always you get a smart arse who casually walks past sucking an icy pole and asks "putting in a light pole are we"? And a chorus of abuse would eminate from the irate workers "get back ter yer knittin' f---face, and the unabashed lolly sucker retreated. Soon it was finished so this hole ten by ten by six feet deep was now ready to fill with water but first we had to get us a tarpaulin from one of the railway wagons. Since there was no railway hearabouts we put the word out and it was'nt long before we had our tarpaulin and would you believe it, it came all the way from Damascus in Syria. We got the thing installed with a lot of wrinkles in it but it held water. One of the lads confiscated it when he was there on escort duty. Then we had to wait for it to fill because we had to carry the water in buckets, and about four
days later when it was about two feet from the top the bucket brigade had had enough and
downed buckets. Some did'nt bother to undress but just jumped in as they were "hey it's
great, come on in" and soon it was full of bobbing heads, three days later there was a dust storm
that lasted two days and now when you went for a swim it was like swimming in cocoa. One bloke
came out and wiped his eyes, and another immediatly dropped to his knees and chanted
"mammy, speak to me mammy". "Get lost dick 'ed" im goin' fer a shower". So we lost our pool the r.s.m. made us empty it and fill it in because the m.o. decided it was a mosquito breeding swamp.
A week later I was detailed for escort duty. A pickup truck was taking some body to Damascus
and six men would go in a Morris truck with a driver and his mate. So we set off and the journey
was uneventful exept once when we came upon a cart that had a broken wheel and we had to
slow down and go round it. There was a noticable tension in the air and safety catches had been
taken off and every body was ready at the first sign of movement among the rocks up on our left,
it was the obvious spot for a hold up. But there was nothing untoward so the two trucks carried on
and when we reached Damascus and jumped off with a sigh of relief and streched our legs. Clouds
of dust filled the air as we landed on the road way. The srgt from the pick up said "right
lads be back 'ere ready to leave at eight 'o clock in the morning and no grog tonight, got it".? "Right sarg".
We had a meander round the place and sat at a table out side a little shop sipping sweet coffee
and admiring the local talent. It was'nt long before two Arab boys were pestering us to clean
our boots and we knew from experience we would get no piece until they had done it. So we gave
them the o.k. and soon they were shiny black and we paid them and moved on down the bazaar.
Where we stopped and watched this bloke making silver threads of wire and shaping them into
spider webs with a spider in the middle of the web and it had gems for eyes, these things were
really works of art. I bought one and sent it home.
There was a lot to see here but since our time was limited we did'nt drift too far away from where
we were staying the night and the time past quickly enough. We were up bright and early, washed shaved and down to the hotel breakfast bar and it was nice not to have salted porridge for a change,"tea effendi"? "Aywa, katakerack"(yes, thankyou). "You like mabye post cards effendi"? "La, la, ana maskeen faloose" (no,no, I have no money) that is the quickest way to get rid because if you have no money they suddenly lose interest in you and go pester some body else.
Then it was time to get into the trucks and we set off back to Jenin and it was a beautiful day
while we were on tarmac but as soon as we left the road the dust would go up in clouds and then
we were back in the compound and we could relax. After a shower I laid on my bunk and was reading one of Zane Gray's novels when whistles were blowing and suddenly the bugle was sounding stand to at the double d da dle d da, di,di,da,da,di,di,da,da,di,di,da,da,daaaa. So suddenly there was a mass exudus from all barracks of men with side arms rifle and small pack, steel helmets. They all knew where to fall in, and
all was still until roaring up the road came a convoy of trucks driven by the R.A.S.C. They drove
in to the main compound and stopped and each truck stopped along side the truck that had just
stopped, so when they all got into the compound they were in a perfect line.
"Right one platoon to each truck move" and when we were all on the whistle blew and some one yelld "move out". We must have travelled till two in the morning when the trucks finally stopped, we got out a bit stiff. But we soon put that right because we set off marching and we had'nt a clue were we were
but same as one bloke said "just foller the bloke in front 'o ye.". Well we did that for about three
hours and finally could see the outline of this village. It was a bright night and I had this
horrible feeling some one was watching us. I was in the front rank and we were now getting
close to this village. We were in skirmish order going towards the village, suddenly a dog
barked but nothing else stirred and it was eerie. Our group were nearest to these stone steps we
came to and they led up on to the top of what looked like a small fort. There were about twenty
steps going up to the top level or flat roof and because it was dark we had to pick our way up
these steps a bit carefully because some one had spilt this thick oil on them and had run down
the steps. Those who did'nt see it until it was too late because they slipped and fell on to it
and there were curses as skin was scratched bruised or rubbed off some of the knees.
"Right you, you, and you take cover behind the wall and keep your eyes open, youse two blokes
go over to that wall and do the same, and keep your heed's doon," The interpreter talked to the
officer in charge of our lot and as far as he could make out some bandits had demanded money
and food and when the mukta told them there was no money they killed him and two of his sons
and taken his wife. When the sun came up what we thought was oil on the steps turned out to
be blood, and on the roof we found the bodies where they had fallen with their throats cut from
ear to ear. Our blokes who had slipped on the steps were a mess to behold not only that but
now they were attracting all the flies for miles around.
Eventually the Palestine police came and took over and we got back to camp without further
ado. It was being bandied about that some of these bandits originally came from Syria to join or help
out the PLO. Either they got disenchanted with the PLO or bored with doing nothing or they
were not getting paid as they expected to, or maybe just for the hell of it anyway this was one lot
of baddies we had to get rid of.
The only snag was they would do some thing like this then disappear over the border to Syria
and we were not allowed to go over the border, there were diplomatic niceties to be observed.
The next time we went out on a stunt was about a week later but this time we were taken on a
truck out into the wilds and dumped off and the truck left. We stood around muttering while
Sgt L got his bearings. He had a map out and was looking at his compass and and decided we
were going to march over to that hill. He pointed to a hill in the shimmering distance, so walking in
single file (there were eight of us and Sgt L made nine), we set off.
And we marched and marched and I think you get into a trance after a while, and when you stop
for a rest the ground goes backwards, or appears to. Well we got to the hill and it was getting dark
so we stopped on this bit of a rise and we had a good view around us so we would not be taken by
surprise. Then we sorted out a system where each man would be on watch for an hour, so after a sumptuouse meal of cold bully and rock hard bisuit we got down to sleep. After our long walk it was
not long before we were in the land of nod. I was awake in an instant when my foot was kicked to let me know it was my turn to watch, it was cold and since we had only shorts and a shirt on I opened my small pack and put on a pullover. When my hour was over I went over and woke up the next bloke and when he got up I laid down and when he thought I was asleep which was about ten minutes he wakened the next bloke and got down to sleep and I thought I will keep my eye on you. This is the type of bloke you don't want in any outfit.
I was awake with the first streaks of light in the sky and standing up I quickly ducked down again as I spotted five little black dots on the plain below two were moving about and three were still laying down. I woke every body and asked the bloke who had been awake the last hour to sit still. Then sgt lamb looked through his binocs and sure enough there were five blokes all dressed in black, the usual garb for the p.l.o. The unusual thing though was where were their mounts? We could see no camels or horses. Sgt lamb said "every body keep down and don't move, lets see what direction they take". So we sat tight and after about ten minutes the others got up and after a confab they started to move away from us. Sgt lamb said "I think they are too far away for us to hit from here and we are not going to chase them because they are heading for the syrian border and will be in syria before we can get them, so lets give them a fright, right every body the range is the maximum on your sight 2000yrds and there is no breeze so take your time and only fire two shots because as soon as they realise we are shooting at them they are going to move
fast". We fired two shots each and about a hundred yards away we saw dust suddenly spurt up.
"Shit, somebody is firing at us, its not them they are too busy running", so we fired into bushes
and trees hoping to flush out who ever was shooting but no more came our way so after holding
a bonnet up on the end of a bayonette and waving it about for a while we got up and set off back
I think the object of that exercise was to capture the five in black who we found out later had
been spotted by a lysander reconnaissance aircraft and it had radiod jenin hence we were it but
we were too late to intercept them. So it was a wasted effort but I have since often wondered
what would have happened if we had met with a larger band and have come to this conclusion
that the idiot that gave the order should have led us. We could have been sitting ducks, however
we did get back safe and headed straight for the naafi for a cup of tea and a wad, then hit the pit
because the srgt said "tommorow you are exused all duty". When I finally did wake up it was
Two days later the p.u. and the escort trucks were shot up coming back from Damascus. The p.u.
had holes in it and got back ok, but the escort truck driver was killed and while they were dragging
him out to put him in the back of the truck they riddled the truck killing and wounding the others.
About an hour after the p.u.got in to camp there was still no sign of the escort truck so the c.o.
ordered a big truck and filled it with ten men and two bren guns but they only got a hundred yards
down the road when the missing truck was spotted. Somebody said "he's as pist as a nute, look at
him will yer he's all over the bloody road". The big truck pulled in to let the other truck go by and
just missed being hit by him. As he went by another bloke said "he's not pissed he's bin hit"
The big truck turned round and crawled behind the escot and the bloke in the big truck were all
gaping at the holes and splintered woodwork of the escort truck. They could see bodies
slumped in the back and lolling about to the swaying of the truck as it careened along the road at
about twenty miles an hour. Both truck finally came to rest at the gate and imediatetly the blokes
in the rear truck began to check to see if any one was alive in the back of the escort truck. The m.o.was called for and soon he arrived with two medical orderlies. But it was too late for all the
blokes in the back, the bloke who had driven the truck back had been wounded with the first
volley and he had been in the back of the truck. When the others got hit he and another bloke
had dragged the driver into the back then he had driven the truck all the way back and while he
was telling his story he kept asking "give us a fag mate" and would take a puff and squash it out.
Then immediatly ask "give us a fag mate", then tell a bit more then "give us a fag mate". Then
somebody said "I think he's fallen asleep" and the fag was burning his fingers but he paid it no
heed. Then a medic grabbed the fag and threw it to the ground and put his foot on it, "he's gone,"
and paused to collect himself. Then he said gruffly "he won't be cadgin' any more fags, poor b-----
d, they got him in the guts."
The bodies were removed and the truck was moved into the compound. The curious of us
looked round and under at the bullet holes and two had gone through the heavy steel chassis.
One bloke nodded at these and said knowingly "elephant gun" some body else remarked
unecessarily "you would'nt want to get hit with one of those too often, would you"? He was
answered with "I don' wan' to get hit at all wiv noffink, fanks very much"
The mood in the camp was a bit sombre for the next few days. When the ambulances came
to take the bodies to Hiafa for burial all the camp was very quiet as we watched them depart
slowly down the dusty road. The huge gates were closed and the camp seemed to be all of a
sudden the only safe place to be in Palestine.
One evening at dusk I was looking out of one of the windows and I saw a light flickering in the
distance and at first I thought it was a truck or car coming. Then I realised it was some one
transmitting with a lamp so I watch it and could make out 'a n y o e l u' then it stopped. But my
morse wasn't all that good, but I made a note of where it came from by drawing a little sketch of
the silhouette on the skye line. Then I went to see this bloke I knew in the sigs and borrowed an
Aldis off him and I spent hours watching the sky line for another sighting. It was'nt till a month
later I got this flash of inginuity it nearly blew my head off, why not try pointing at at the spot with
the Aldis and signal.
For about a week I did this, mabye quarter of an hour I would stand there like an idiot clicking
away into the darkness then one night .-.. I had got a response and straight away I signalled (who
are you) and the reply was (police station hiafa) and I panicked and signalled (wait). Then I raced
to fetch the bloke who had loaned me the lamp and he came and bailed me out so to speak. But
later I would don a big pair of tackerty boots and kick the hell out of my self for doing this
because it turned out that it was the police chief's daughter who was bored and used to talk to
any body who would answer with a lamp. Now this Casanova had made a date with her and
was going to see her if he could wangle a week end in Haifa. Then to rub salt into the wound it
was up on orders that some of us could have a weekend in Haifa the following week if we put our
names down on the list provided on the board. And of course then it turned into a lottery because
every body in the camp put their name on the list and then there was so much squabbling, so the
only way to do it was ten would go every weekend and it would be done alphabetically.
Then it was all cancelled and it made sence when we read the notice board. Service men will be
allocated a pass and transport to proceed to Haifa for a period of three days, the RSM will detail at random those who are to go and when they will go. This proceedure will be adheered to until further notice.
This will nullify the chances of set patterns being picked up by the PLO and could evert further
casualties, signed Anderson c.o.
So there it was, all we had to do now was sit and wait for your name on the notice board. Then
some dick head came racing in and said hey tommo you're name is on the notice board. So I
nipped to confirm it and sure enough there it was, but when I looked at the heading it was for
guard duty and not for a week end pass.
When I came off guard duty the next day I saw Bob Moat sitting looking miserable at the back of
our hut so I joined him. We had a yarn and he had got a letter telling him his sister was ill he
did'nt go into detail. Then he showed me the camera that had come with the letter, so he got one
of the blokes to take a picture of himself and me sitting at the back of the hut, we still have
that picture now. But a lot of my albums never got home, I suppose they are at the bottom of the Mediteranian sea.
Then we got a weekend pass, Danny Mc'ormack, Bob Moat, George Baxter, Tom Barker,
Wully Mc'locklin, uncle Tom's cobblers and all. We all sallied fifth and one of the blokes playing silly buggers because he was so full of delight made to leap onto the truck and miss judged and nearly broke his leg. He skinned it but wrapped it with a hanky and said "if I go to get it fixed the truck might leave
without me" and he was not about to risk that. So we set off side arms and rifle and any other protection gear that was handy. Arriving at Haifa we booked into a hotel and then went round the shops and we
did'nt go berserk with our money because we would do well to have enough left to go to the cinema.
Ah yes the cinema, there was this good movie musical on and loads of people were queueing up
to get in so we got our tickets. There was a bit of pushing and shoving until the usher came
and started sorting every body out. Will you please go into that queue, and would you go into this
queue, and turning to danny he pointed to the far wall where people were waiting and he said "far
queue". Danny said "far queue an' all mate", and we got chucked out, well, we were
diplomatically asked to leave by the military police. "Roight then you shower, lets av'yer out soide
So we wandered down to the beach in case somebody was drowning and we did'nt want to miss
it. Nobody was, so we had to look elsewhere for amusement and it was not long before we
found our selves looking into shop windows for some thing better to do. We were walking
along the pavement minding our own business when coming toward us was a group of Jewish
youths and they were walking in a tight group streching across the pavement. Immediatly
bells began to ring with us, because we had seen it all before, either we go into a shop or step on
to the road to let them past. If we step on to the road a truck or car could run us down. If we went
into a shop there could be a set up in the shop. The only thing to do was stand our ground and
they started to get ugly. So we did the standard practice for a rough house, we took off our belt
and with bayonette in one hand and belt with heavy scabbard in the othe,r we backed up to this
Jewish shop with a big plate glass window. They now would not throw stones because they would
break the window of one of their own shops, so it looked like it was going to be a hand to hand
brawl and we revelled in this kind of activity. Then some body had to spoil it, this Palestine police
man (British) pulled out a pistol and bang, bang, into the air came running over and remostrated
with the offending youths. One got a bit stroppy so he whacked him across the face with his open
hand and he settled down smarting.
We continued with our stroll round but had to keep alert and I thought its not worth the effort, if
you did go into a shop the people were polite but cold, and the whole place reeked of hostility.
I was glad to get back to camp. Actually I was quite happy laying on my bed reading Zane Grey cowboy novels and writing the odd letter home. I had acquired a tuition book on the guitar so I spent a bit of time on this musical hobby for a while. Then it would wane and I would go round looking for deformed trees so I could sketch them. That was a waste of time at Jenin because there were no trees that I could
see from the camp and since the camp was surrounded by wire you could not go looking for
Then things in Haifa got a bit sticky and martial law was declared. Any one on the street after six
'o clock could be arrested and were. The only snag with that was you could be walking along the
pavement patrolling and some Jew would drop a brick or big rock on to your head. This
actually happened in one case, a bloke was hit on the head by a big lump of concrete. He was
wearing a steel helmet but his neck was crushed, the bloke who dropped it was three stories up
and never was caught.
Then we got a tip off the Jews were landing off ships that had run aground near Sarafand. So we
had to go there and do beach watching and then race to settlements and look for guns or any
thing that could be used to kill somebody else. But they were smart and personly I don't blame them,
after all they are only looking after themselves. We were invited to a kibutz, thats a Jewish settlement
were every body chips in and shares every thing more or less. They gave us cool drinks and we were treated amiable enough. Somebody suggested they will try to drag this on as long as possible because while we are here the wogs won't attack. Mabye we had been in our camp too long because most of our blokes were drooling every time one of the young women walked or rather sacheyed past rolling their eyes and anything else they could manage. Some were built like rolltop desks and had the shortest of shorts
on and Marilyn Munro could'nt hold a candle to these girls.
Well all too soon it was time to go so we hopped into our trucks and departed without further ado.
As we roared past the gate the girls waved and shouted "come again". Some of our
blokes muttered "don't you wish", "and chance would be a fine thing". Then we moved back to Jenin
and the crisis was over but the PLO and the jews were still at each others throats and we were in the middle. It was'nt long before we hit more strife. One of our d.r.'s had been travelling along the road
on his motor byke and had run into a fine steel wire stretched accross the road and had been decapitated. The Palestine police patrol had found him and brought him back to camp. We were slowly getting pissed off with these people and it began to show. When G.B. went into Haifa with a mate to buy a handbag to send home to his mum and couple of Jews picked an argument with them, now GB was big but he was a very quiet bloke and nobody if they had any sence would pick a fight with GB. But these two blokes were looking for trouble and they would have been better employed picking a fight with a grizzly bear.
It started at the counter of this Jewish shop. GB was admiring the workmanship of this handbag
and matching purse when these two louts sauntered in and pushed against GB and the other
made a grab at the bag. Maybe because the bloke without a head was still laid out in the camp
hospital triggered some thing in GB’s head. Anyway he suddenly roared and grabbing one bloke
round the middle, he crushed him to his chest and the bloke was screaming and wriggling and the
other bloke came up behind GB pulling out a knife. GB gave an extra squeeze and whirled round
and threw the now unconcious bloke at his other attacker. As the two went down in a heap he
reached down swiftly and grabbed the ankles of the bloke with the knife and tranferred his right
hand to the wrist of the knife hand and lifted it clear of the ground then he stomped the arm with
his heavy boot. The bloke dropped the knife and screamed. As GB stood back a Palastine
police man (British) came in with pistol drawn, "you alright mate" he asked. GB said "I am but I
think these two have got problems" and he pointed to the two blokes. One who had blood round
the mouth, broken ribs, possible punctured lung, the other with a broken arm, then to the surprise
of his mate and the cop GB went over to the bloke with a broken arm and stomped the hand of
his good arm as it lay on the floor and smashed the fingers then snarled at him "that's in case
you're left handed, bastard." Then throwing the price of the bag on the counter and grabbing the
reciept from the shaking shop keeper and nodding to the cop he walked out the shop with his mate
in tow. It was when they got back to camp the mate told the story to us all. I kid you not those
blokes were big blokes but they sure dropped a clanger picking on GB. And as we came out of
the shop there were a lot of Jewish blokes round the door but they drew back as we left and gave
us plenty of room to leave.
The next day GB had to go see the c.o. but in the afternoon we saw him sunning himself behind
the hut and as placid as ever so we knew the incident was over, as far as baxter was concened.
All our washing was done by an Arab. The doby wallah he was known as and there was also an
Arab who would go round the camp selling from a small box stuff like chocs and boiled sweets but
when he was caught taking photograghs one day he got the boot to jail in Haifa. Maybe he was just
taking them to send home, who knows, but the powers that be decided to be on the safe side and
delv into his pastime before letting him go.
We did early morning raids on villages when we got a tip from the informers and usualy the
pattern was the same. We would be driven in trucks through the night and about a mile away we
would debuss and march the rest of the way, then we would surround the village and wait for
dawn. As soon as it was light we would send in four groups with bren guns and they would climb
on to the roofs of the four corner houses of the village. That way each group had a quarter section to
moniter and facing out ward they could challenge or shoot any one leaving the village.
Once these blokes were in place a very light pistol would put up a flare into the sky and everyone
round the village would move in to search and interrogate the people in the village. If there
were any PLO or bandits you could nearly always spot them because they would be ajitated, and
some time we had to pull them from chimneys or from down a well. If one of the villagers
said they had seen guns we did'nt bother searching the wells we just dropped grenades down
and got out of the way. If someone did evade the searchers and tried to slip out of the village they
would be challenged by the blokes on the roof tops and if they did not stop a shot was put into
the ground near them. If they continued they were shot in the leg or legs, that depended on whether
or not the bren gunner had put the lever to single shot or automatic fire. If the bloke had a fire arm
and started to turn still holding the weapon after being challenged he was shot in the body.
You would not believe some of the weapons we picked up, elephant guns which, if you were
hit with one of these it was knocking off time. Then there as a blunderbuss the barrel of this
antique was shaped like a trumpet. I suppose so you could just shovel nails and other metal
scrap into it. Some had shot guns, and one shot gun we found was so rusty if it had been fired
it would probably have blown off the face of the user, even an air gun. I was waiting to find a catapult in
somebodies back pocket but they preferred slings that could kill a bloke if the stone caught him
on the head. They were pretty good with stones and the ground was covered with them so they were not short on ammo.
But their knives were something else, hone to a razors edge these things were not ornamental
and they could use them. One pastime they indulged in was to scrape the nails from your fingers
if they caught you and took you prisoner. Another was to drive splinters of wood up your finger
nails then light the wood. When they got bored with that if they felt particularly nasty they could
peel all your skin off. The only thing that had going for it was you could not get sun burnt any
more, that is, if you managed to get away.
There was one thing that I thought was a bit rough. If the baddies wanted to snipe on us they
would go onto the roof of some bodies home (flat roofs) to get good elevation, shoot at us then
disappear into the desert. The householder could do nothing about this, but then along come
our lot and finding empty cartridges on the roof would call in the army engineers and they would
set charges and blow the house sky high after the owners had been removed.
On one occasion the charges had been set and and as we waited for the house to erupt a donkey
appeared at the side of the house and stood there looking at us. Suddenly the ground shook and
the house burst open like balloon going off bang. When the dust settled there was the donkey
shaking its head and clouds of dust were being drifted away by the breeze.
We formed up and marched away from this place and were going over to another village to
check it out for bandits and on the way one of our blokes kicked at what he thought was a ball of
dried grass, it turned out to be a hornet's nest. One minute there we were marching along in
three straight rows, and the next minute it was chaos there were blokes running all over the place
and hitting at each other to get rid of these monster size wasps. When they stung it was like a
red hot poker touching you arm or where ever. Afterwards we all had these bumps all over
where we had been stung and some blokes still were picking dead hornets out of their hair where
they had been crushed as the blokes beat at each other in a frenzy to get rid of them.
At last we got to this village and one of the first things we saw was this horse with a disease that
made it looke like a skeleton with a skin on. The officer took out his pistol and although the
owner protested he put the pistol to the horses ear and 'bang' the horse just stood there with
blood now pouring from it's nose. One of our blokes muttered "that's no way to kill a horse". Then
the sergeant said to the officer "exuse me sir, let me" and before the officer could say any thing
the sergeant stood in front of the now swaying horse and putting the muzzle of his rifle between
the eyes of the horse he fired. The horse collapsed into a heap, dead.
We got moved to a rest camp, it was called Sarafand. It looked like a backyard mock up for the desert song, lots of little sand hills and as if they had been thrown from a truck just anywhere were the tents we had to live in. The tents were roof only there were no walls so when a mistral blew (sand storm) we had no protection. We lay in our beds with head under the sheets so we could breath. The only good thing about this camp was it was close to the sea and first thing in the morning we would dash down to the water, they
almost had to drag us away from it. But there was method in their madness, the people who
shuffled us about, while we were here we had to keep an eye on any more ships coming in with
jews trying to land illegally.
It was at this place one day we were all laying about and somebody said "cor would you look at
that lot, it's bloody Ali Baba and his forty bloody theives", coming along the track that was
next to the foreshore were about thirty to forty Arabs on horseback with guns and the whole
sheebang. Somebody whispered "don't anybody move, smile for christ sake, try to look at a
book, but if one of them lifts a gun get ready to duck". We could not have shot back immediatly
anyway because all our rifles were locked up on their stand. Only the blokes on guard were
armed here so its as well the horsmen rode past with only a curious stare. Later we found out they belonged to King hHssien of Jordan so its just as well we hadn’t the opportunity to shoot at them, well they were identical to most mounted bandits we had seen in the area. The C.O. put in a formal complaint
to the powers that be and suggested next time we be notified that an armed contingent of Arabs
were in the area or we would not be held responsible for the out come. All it needed was one bloke to
lift a gun and all hell would have been let loose.
We, that is Bob Moat, G.B., Ginger Craig, Danny Mc'corack or 'the donkey' as we used to call him in
fun, a bloke called Gillies, and myself went to Tel-Aviv for the week end on a pass. We got booked in
at the hotel and went down to the beach and because it was all open we had to carry side arms and rifle. Danny Mc'cormack had been at the sherbet and was a little tipsy and when we called in at the air pellet range to win a doll danny could not hit the bull for love or money and losing his cool he snarled "I'll hit
the f----g bull" and he took the Lee Enfield off his shoulder and before we realised what he was doing he fired two shots through the steel plate at the back of the shooting stall. The plate was there to stop air pellets not a .303 ball and they just punched two holes straight through. The loud shots immediatly
brought a Palestine policeman (British) and he smoothed everybody over by taking our names and whispering to us "don't worry about it' I've got to make it look good". If you had been an Arab the beach would have been cleared by now.
So we took Danny back to the hotel and got him settled down and after loading him with coffee
and a couple of visits to the toilet he was fine again. So we went to the pictures then had a quiet
stroll along the beach front. The next day we hired these little canoes from one of the vendors on
the beach. When the hour was up nobody wanted to go back to the beach so while we were
paddling madly in the sea the owner was madly paddling the sand on the beach because while
we had his canoes he could not rent them to people who were waiting to have a dabble with the
paddle. So there he was running up and down the waters edge blowing his whistle and screaming
come in number four and come in number one and there were about six canoes just ignoring his
please to come in. Then he went away but came back with who else but our friendly Palestine
copper who waved to us to come in. Not wanting to creat an international incident we
reluctantly complied. When the bloke who owned the canoes demanded more money for the
extra time he was told what he could do with his canoes.
So we picked up our gear and took a walk the only trouble was you got cramp in your fingers
holding the rifle so tight for so long. At the back of your mind you could see not only Arabs
drooling over a Lee Enfield but Jews as well, so I felt a lot easier when we set off for the camp.
Then 'b' company was moved to Tulcarm, and we took up residence in this small fort like
building made of stone and at one side was a watch tower on long legs. The only way up to it
was by a rope ladder which was raised and lowered by the guys on watch and you could not shin
up the legs because they were covered in grease. There was a rope tied to the tower and it ran
down to the guard room so if we saw any thing untoward we could pull on the rope and a bell would ring down at the guard room and every body in the place could then stand to ready for action.
Once up in the tower you could scan with binocs for miles and if you were fired on you could
duck down behind steel plates that lined the tower, the only time you were vunerable though was
going up the ladder or coming down.
One evening there was a squabble going on in the village and it appeared a son had killed his
father because he would not lend him his plough. The plough was a wooden branch from a tree
with a 'v' shaped nose. The nose would have a rope tied round it and an ox would drag it through
the ground while the other end was held by the user to guide the plow. So we thought to kill a
bloke for a bit of shaped wood went against the grain. However to keep the peace we arrested
the bloke because if we had'nt done so he could have had his throat cut by his own people.
While at this place I got a parcel from home and in it was a cake for my birthday, ninteen I think.
Anyway it was so broken up and some of it was mouldy I was about to throw it into the midden
when some of the blokes said "give it 'ere, we aint so fussy", and brushing off the mouldy bits
scoffed the lot.
Then the whole regiment was sent to a place called Jerico, and here we lived
under canvas. We still went out on stunts, we were joined by another regiment, the Queen's
Light Infantry. Later we got a mobile cinema run by a bloke called shafto, it was a bit like the
drive in cinema exept the sound was from behind the screen and the projector was in a covered
truck. The trouble started when a really good film was to be shown and when some of our blokes
went to get in some of the queens got nasty and a fight erupted. It always happens when two different
mobs come together and two blokes can't agree. Anyway the out come of this fight was about
five blokes in hospital and a lot more in clink. So the c.o. of both mobs posted orders that the
cinema was off limits certain nights and that way it kept us apart, and peace was restored once
more, more or less.
Some of the blokes would run a book. They would collect scorpions and centipedes and put one
of each in a jam jar and there would be a fight to the death and if you bet on the wrong one you
lost your money. Usually you could bet there would be one of these creatures in your boot when
you got up in the morning, so you would knock your boots out before putting them on.
Of Jerico there was not a lot to be seen. Nearby was what looked like it had been an aquaduct
that streched far into the distance. Over to our left were purple hills stretching for miles, and
one day out for walkies we had a dip in the dead sea just so we could say we had done it.
We went out on an exersise and when we came back all our beds were baking in the sun and the
tent was gone. These tents by the way were cottage tents and slept about twenty blokes, they
were similar to what you would find at a garden fete, more like a marquee. So there must have been more than one bloke involved. By now it would probably be the home of some family in the Sudan.
Good luck to them.
Suddenly there was bedlam. A group of us were walking toward the naafi truck when all of a
sudden all the motor horns were blowing. Then they stopped and then they sounded again and
again they stopped then off. They went again then the R.S.M. came running towards us and was
screaming at us "are you'se lot f-------g deef, don't you know there's an air raid on". We looked
at one another and somebody said "he's flipped". The R.S.M. went purple in the face and
shouted "don't you listen? We are at war". And somebody said "oh that's nice, anybody we
know,"? The R.S.M had to think a minute. I don't think he was used to conversing with idiots. He
was good at shouting orders, but when it came to dealing with simpltons he was completely
Slowly and patiently he said quietly "We is at war with Germany, it just came over the radio and
that was an air raid signal and until we gets a proper siren that is what youse will be 'earin for the
time being an' you duck into cover quick smart, got it? An get some tools and dig air raid
trenches you are going to need ‘em." "Oh so that was a practice thing was it sir?" The
R.S.M..turned and as he was walking away took out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes and his
shoulders were shaking. One bloke said "did I say some thing funny?" This was only the first
of many alarms some at two in the morning. As one bloke said "give somebody a new toy
and they will play with it for hours".
Then there was a roumer we were moving, two weeks later we had another roumer floating round the camp, Betty Grable was going to visit the troops and do her thing. Of course this opened a completely new can of worms. There was now a queue at the naafi bus to buy Brillcream, some blokes took to shaving twice a day so they did'nt have a shadow on their chin when Betty arrived. She never did of course but
that is the power of roumer. Some blokes would stand for hours looking into the distance while
shading their eyes from the bright sunlight with their hand, and if an aircraft flew over blokes could be
seen peering out of tents or coming out with a book in their hands. They would be peering skywards
then with a disgusted look would retire to their tent and rub oil up and down their rifle.
In fact we never did get any celebrities visit us. There were no landing strips near us and no
hotels, just lots of dust, flies, bully and biscuits. If you did'nt watch it, the vultures would
swoop and steal your bully right off the plate as you are sitting there eating. It was nice to get a
mug of tea though because it made a nice change to drinking luke warm water that tasted terrible
with purifiying tablets in it, and we did if we were lucky get the odd water melon or orange.
That reminds me of one day we route marched all day and come dark we lay down amongst the orange trees. The next day at dawn I awoke and sat up a bit quickly and banged my head on the biggest not ripe dark green orange that felt like a rock, but not being ripe yet, I left it there to grow a bit more.
Due to the toilets being slit trenches in the ground with a bit of wood to sit on the drill was when
you had used it you would sprinkle lime before you left, well it was not long before blokes were
going sick with dissentry and other fly related illnesses.
From Jerico we were moved to Cairo, where we had a look round for a while, but it was not long
before we were on a train. We were shipped out, so to speak, to the western desert. This train we
travelled on was packed. There were wogs on the roof and hanging on the back, and
a tea walla was trying to sell tea and eggs and bread. Another would be flogging oranges, and
most of the time the only way they could move was on the roof top of the carriages, so it was
We arrived at the last railway station in Egypt, El Alamein. I did'nt know it then but this name would
be in history one day. We dismounted and formed up and marched off into the desert. After marching
by compass and map we were glad when finally a halt was called, but it was only for a rest of ten minutes then off we went again. I lost count of rests we had that day but we finally got to where we were going
and it was great to get rid of the heavy equipment we were carrying, bren guns and an anti tank rifle, not counting all the ammo, our own as well as boxes of magazines for the bren guns. Some of the blokes
had shoulders rubbed raw from the equipment webbing straps and due to sweating some had a rash and the flies did'nt help. Then we had to dig holes in the ground for us to live in, and the quicker the better because we did not want to get caught out in the open by some Italian plane.
We dug a hole about eight feet square and five feet deep and over the top we spread our ground
sheet. We would damp it with water then lightly sprinkle it with sand and from the air it could not
be seen, we hoped. To get into the hole you went down three steps and to get out you turned round and came out again. It kept the sun off and if most blokes off duty stayed down in these holes during the
day we did not draw too much attention to ourselves. Four or six blokes to a hole so to make
sure you did not wander on to some body's roof and cave it in there were stones randomly put on
the ground sheet to stop the wind blowing it away and to let us know there were bods underneath
We had just got nicely settled when the officer called for platoon leaders (Sgt’s) and they would
come back and detail you, you, and you, side arms and rifle and as soon as it is dark be ready to
move off. Of course there was the usual speculation "goin' fer a bleedin' nature walk are
we"? and "och ah dinny mind a wee walk before ah go tae ma bed". Some body who was not
on the list would request one of the lads "ef'n ye happen tae see a wee bunch o' wild floowers
would ye bring some back just fer me". The reply "nae bother at a' whully, ah'l dae thaat fer
So my turn came to go on one of these night forages, and what we were doing was going out
to the Italian lines and collecting information. To whit listening to the patter coming from some of
the Italian positions and marking them on our maps. In this manner we established where most
of the little forts and posts were. Some times we would accidentally find a drunken Italian soldier
who, having crawled out of his pit to relieve himself and wandered too far from his pit, got lost,
so we would click him up and bring him back. Since this kind of activity involved long marches
into Italian held territory we soon became known as the long range desert group. Soon it would
be done in trucks and films would be made, but we started the ball rolling and we did it the hard way, because what we took with us we had to carry. Some times we came back a man short sometimes
two. We don't know if the enemy got them or they just wandered into a quick sand.
Then one morning when we got up somebody said "look what I've just picked up over there" and
it was a fountain pen. "Some body will be cursing, looks like a real expensive one too", then there
was a bang and he was minus his hand. What the italians were doing was flying up high then they
would cut their engine and glid over our positions and drop these little nasties, pens, thermous flasks,
bottle of wine. While we were stood open mouthed looking at the bloke with one hand, four blokes had found a thermouse flask and one had it to his ear and was shaking it. We shouted but he was too far
away. Then we saw this officer walk over and take it off the bloke and he put it to his ear and shook it
and our sarg said "I don't believe it". Then shouted at the top of his voice "put it down and get away from
it". The officer turned and carried it toward his pick up truck, but before he reached the truck
there was a great bang as the thing exploded and of course he was killed outright.
We took a pretty dim view of this kind of sneaky warfare and it all built up to a point where if you
had any doubts about what you would do when meeting an enemy soldier these tactics dispelled
them. The sun turned us brown, the boredom made us browned off, the food turned us off, we had
sand in our food, sand in our hair, sand in our rifles, and sand where it should not be. We had to
put up with this for month after month after month. Once in a while a truck would pull in and some
body would shout "anybody for the sea,"? You nearly crushed in the rush. We would brew up tea
to wash down the bully and biscuit, some times we had biscuit and bully to make a change.
To make the tea we had an empty petrol tin which we would half fill with sand then we would
pour petrol into the tin and the sand would soak it up. Then we set it alight and only the fumes
coming out of the sand and mixing with the air would burn giving an even flame to cook on. You
made sure you removed the full petrol tin before you lit your fire and if a plane was heard you
douse it straight away and get into your bunker.
So we lived like prairie dogs for months and any chance of a dip in the sea was as welcome as
like going on leave. We would go in fully dressed at first that way our clothes got washed. We
did send laundry by truck to get washed, but some times it got blown up so you had to make do
till new gear arrived. We also got a special issue of eye cover. This was a cheap bit of clear thin
perspex with elastic head band. When you moved the two press studs together and snapped
them shut (pair at each side) they formed a good fit to the face and kept a lot of dust out, and
they were so light you forgot you had them on. In fact later Field Marshal Rommel was to discard
his heavy tank goggles in favour of these cheap Englander goggles.
The patrols at night sometimes would be interupted by a stunt in the desert employing all
personell. Some times these could last for three days, then back to the boredom of sitting around
and going out to listen to the Italians at night.
Then we were told of this big stunt tomorrow, make sure all your gear is in good working order
was one command. A querulous voice asked why are we going on leave? The next day we
saw trucks coming and they stopped near our position. There must have been about thirty trucks
and I thought ‘this is going to be an extrabig stunt’. And I saw some of the trucks had men in
them already and when I asked the driver who they were. He told me they are Spanish
mercineries, they fight for any body who will pay them. I chewed on this for awhile and forgot
about it because now we were told to get on the trucks and soon we were travelling along this
dusty track across the desert, and hoped this stunt was’nt going to take too long. I think
we all had had a gut full of this training and night marching and you name it and we had done it.
The truck bounced and the backside was sore from the hard wooden lats of the seats and it
was hot and sweaty in full kit and everybody had dark sweat patches on their shirts and the
choking dust got into every thing. This purgetory seemed to go on and on. Then we stopped and
every body out and the order form up in column of threes was given. Then what had never
happened on any other stunt happened now, and I knew then that this was for real.
The Spanish soldiers and now this could mean one thing only, this was not a stunt this was for
real and I felt a bit like when I went into the boxing ring for the first time, apprehensive at not
knowing what we were about to face. I had faith in my own ability and I thought play it as it
An officer was standing at the front of the assembley and he addressed us gentlemen we shall
go for a night stroll into the desert and do it quietly. When we stop we should be half a mile
from the Italian lines, so there will be no smoking and no talking once we move off. There will not
be any problems because you are the best troops of the british army and this will just be like
another exercise to you, thank you for your attention and would you now listen while the medical
officer has a few words. The medic said you men are going into action and if you need to urinate
or clear you bowels do so now, it will help if you get hit. Another officer took over and he said “our
father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name etc". When that was finished he led us into the hyme ‘abide with me’.
It was very quiet after that and sections began moving out across the sand and soon it was
whispered to us dig as quiet as you can just enough to get you below the surface of the ground.
This we did and it was cold at night in the desert laying on the sand. I would doze then be
wide awake as the bloke next to me moved, then the false dawn began to lighten the sky and
one or two blokes were standing up shaking their blankets when there came a whirring noise a bit
like a speeding car with flat tyre. Suddenly sand erupted near one of the blokes and he
dissappeared and another went down screaming and writhing in the sand, then another.
Another came over and soon you could hardly see for dust and sand being carried by the wind,
and some of us made for the truck hoping to get some cover because small arms fire was
coming over and hitting one or two. The driver and his mate were starting the truck when a shell
hit the front end and pushed the engine back and the front end was on fire. The driver
slumped down with half his head gone but his mate at this side had his leg trapped and could not
get it free. He had wound down the window and was leaning out gasping for air as flames began
to lick up as we tried desperatly to free the jammed door the handle was red hot and I got blisters
trying to open it. Then the flames crept up his body and he was screaming at me shoot me you
stupid lookin’ b-----d, but I could not do this. Instead I got hold of his arm to pull him out but it was
like pulling off his coat sleeve. The skin of his arm peeled off like a snake shedding skin, get
away from the transport, they are aiming at the transport some body screamed at us. We had
ducked under this truck so we vacated that posision quick smart. There was a bloke under the
back diff and when a piece of shrapnel hit the tyre he did’nt have time to get out. We had to
listen his screams as he was crushed.
On our left a bren gun carrier came tearing through when a shell went straight through the front
of it and all that was left of the driver was a boot with a foot still in it. I thought at the time as I
looked at it how white the bone looked, the drivers seat and surround was blackened and some
smears of red.
Ginger Craig was one of the boys in our gang and as we were leaving this truck
for safer premisis a shell exploded a bit away from us, but suddenly Ginger was clutching his
chest and groaning then he fell down and said I don’t believe it, Iv’e been hit and he unbuttoned
his shirt and there was a hole in his chest. He sank to the sand and he was now very pale.
We tried to put a field dessing on it to at least stop the loss of blood but they were not big
enough. "I’m cold Tommo" he said, so I took off my great coat and laid it over him and then he
was shivering "I’m still cold Tommo". So the other lads took of their coats and covered him.
"Funny" he said "I’m just all numb in my chest, but I’m cold Tommo. Don’t leave me Tommo". Then
some body screamed at us "leave him you can’t help him any more and fix your bayonet". So we
fixed our bayonets and with a last look at Ginger Craig we advanced on the Italian lines.
Now the Italians were in slit trenches and machine gun nests and they were firing field guns at us
and we had half a mile to go. It was not a charge as we know a charge. More of a walk a bit and
lay flat when we saw the smoke from the guns, then get up and walk some more. This carried
on for a while, unfortunatly some times when we got up, some would still lay there and never get
up again. On one occasion a shell hit the ground between myself and a bloke called Healy or
Harry Chambers. I was watching my front and waiting for the whistle to blow, we had been told to
get down when the whistle blew and get up and advance when it blew again. When out of the
corner of my eye I saw the sand spurt up to my right and this shell which was a buff colour and it
had red green and black rings colouring its nose. We both watched it hit the ground and bool
sideways, it had not gone off because the muzzle of the gun was too low and the shell could not
explode because it was landing on its shoulder instead of the point where the firing pin is.
Harry stuck his thumb up and grinned and with an effort I grinned back, I thought Barton fair
was never like this.
Then I saw one of our blokes pull out the bolt of his rifle and lick the sand and dust off the bolt to
make it work. With all the dust blowing about it was a wasted effort, we were going to have
to use the bayonet only. The Italians realised their field guns were useless because we were so
close now. Some were jumping out of the trenches and running away into the desert, some
were still firing rifles at us and throwing grenades. We were so hyped up because they had
killed so many of our blokes and now they wanted to call it a day. It was a bit like a bloke
wading into the sea and holding his hands up expecting the on rushing waves to suddenly stop,
no way.no way.
Suddenly all the bedlam ceased and it was so quiet it was eerie the only noise was ear noise, like
a ringing whistle and here. There were Italian blokes, some were still and in funny positions,
others were laying and some were kneeling. You could see the mouth working but you could
only hear this ringing whistling noise in the ears. Gradually sound came back and you could hear
crying and sobs coming from the wounded but we were too busy looking into the dugouts for any
body with guns or knives. When some body was discovered hiding in a dugout he was made
to join the rest of the motley lot outside. One Italian had a bayonet still in his body, perhaps the
Jock had used like a sword. We also captured some women they were there to entertain the men
no doubt and some of them thought that because they were women they could get away with
anything but they were in for a shock. When they demanded special treatment and did’nt get it.
They said "o.k. we go into the desert" and our officer said "o.k. goodbye" and turned his back on them.
When they realised they were not going to get their own way they sidled up to the officer and
said "o.k. we do it your way". The officer said "right join those pow’s over there and keep your
mouth shut madam".
So the prisoners were herded away with one of our blokes to look after them.
They had no fight left in them and after a while they began to sit around in groups. There were
thousands of them spread over the desert. In the evening a group came out of the desert and
stopped a hundred yards away and one came forward and offered to surrender for some water.
He was told by our bloke "f--- off and come back in the morning", and he did.
Then a compound was erected with barbed wire a very rough affair but it served its purpose to
keep the pow’s together until they could be moved. One day somebody threw over the wire a
big tin of biscuits. It was a big tin and you had to pull off the top seal which was soldered on to
keep the tin airtight. Well some one had pulled off the seal so now here was a tin with a hole in
the top about six inches across and the edge was as sharp as glass. It was not surprising that
when the tin landed on the ground it was fought over and two or three hands tried to get into the
tin at once. Soon there was blood spurting from cut wrists and it was not long before the tin was
grabbed by one of us and the biscuits shaken out and thrown into the compound where they were
again fought over. I had fired a shot into the air to restore order and now the officer was asking
who fired the shot. I told him it was me and he asked me why I had fired the shot. I replied "because
some idiot threw in a tin of biscuits knowing it would cut them when they tried to get the bicuits out
because they are all hungry". "So you have sympathy for the enemy "? asked the officer. I replied "no sir, but I thought we were fighting this kind of behavior not condoning it." "Oh we have a Sir Galahad in our midst do we" smirked the officer. I walked away before I got into trouble with my tongue.
One bloke had been looking through the Italian dugouts and had come across a big chest and
when he opened it he found it was stuffed full of italian lire (money). So he stuffed his pack and
pouches full of the bigger notes and some body told him it was worthless and he was wasting
his time. But he took it with him to Alexandria when he went on leave and he got it changed
and finished up with about three hundred quid. There we were trying to manage on three quid each.
So he was’nt so daft after all.
We had taken Sidi Barani from the Italians and it was the beginning of a phase that was to push
them right back to where they had started from.
We were held at a place called Solum while the Australians took over from us on the move we
were to stay at Solum and watch the jetty there.
2982252 Pte Barker T.O. 1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Born 23 May 1921.
Tom Barker, email, firstname.lastname@example.org