Tom Barker passed on October 1st 2008
Um il Fahm military camp was situated on the top of a huge hill in Palestine and on this one particular day it seemed to be hotter than usual.
Most of the blokes not on duty were lying on their beds under their mosquito nets in the barrack room that had all the windows opened allowing any small breeze to wander in and search under all the beds then exit though the windows opposite carrying some of the heat away.
But suddenly the tranquility of the afternoon was ended abruptly as the bugle blared “Alarm” followed by, “Fall in at the double”.
“Aw Gawd, some bugger ‘as went an’ fell ‘ead fust dahn inti ‘t latrines!” warbled a bloke who was now struggling into his equipment.
“ App’n ‘e was avvin’ a stroke an’t sun gid ‘im wun as well at the wrong moment?” offered another bloke.
The mob of disgruntled swaddies trooped through the door of the barrack room and once outside lined up in three ranks and awaited the arrival of the Sergeant.
The Sergeant pushed through the fly-wired door and let it close with a bang since he was busy with both hands fastening the belt of his equipment.
“ Wot’s happenin’ then Sarge?” enquired one bloke in the front rank.
The Sergeant was about to answer when he spotted the Officer approaching and he sprang to attention.
“Company shun” he barked and all the men on parade came to attention.
The Officer returned the Sergeants salute and warbled, “Rest the men Sergeant”
When the men had been told to stand easy the Officer told them they were going on a ramble into the hills to find any horses or other animals that were sick and since they belonged to some of the local Arabs the names and addresses had to be noted so that recompense could be paid where applicable.
Loaded down with a Bren gun and four magazines I was next to Bob Moat who had another four magazines in his pouches as well as his Lee Enfield rifle and a bandolier of .303 rounds tied round his waist in a canvas holder and we moved out of the wire surrounded camp where B Coy of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders lived.
“ Ah wunder weer us is off ti’ tiddae” quiried a native of Greenock, Scotland.
A Geordie voice snarled, “Wha gi’s f---k sae lang as weer ‘ome fa’ wa tea en at!”
About an hour went by and the sun beat down and the breeze dropped.
It became too hot to talk and all that could be heard was the rasping breathing and the rattle of stones as they were moved or crunched by marching feet.
The Officer called a halt and told us to fall out for the ten minute rest per hour of marching.
It was then we noticed a small building about a quarter of a mile away through waving lines of heat moving up from the ground.
Since there had been nothing but a bare hot landscape for the last hour of marching this small house could be the beginning of us coming to a village.
“Cor! ah wud gi’ me reet airm fer a cowd drink roight nah” sighed one bloke.
“ Yea’r an’ yu’d want the bugger back as soon as yu’ ed downed the drink” warbled his mate.
Our musings came to an abrupt end as we were fell in again and we marched towards this small house.
I noticed as we got closer there was a speckled gray horse tethered outside in the hot sun.
But as we got closer I saw with dismay the horse was not well and indeed looked like it would fall over any time now and the Sergeant called a halt as we got to the small house.
The Officer went to the door of the house as an Arab came out and did the, “Salaam, hem dil Allah” bit.
The Officer and the Arab talked at some length then the Arab began pleading and followed the Officer who then went over to the horse and pulled out his service revolver and put the muzzle of the pistol to the ear of the sick horse.
The animal looked like it was starving because we could count all it’s bones and ribs.
It also had sores on its legs and back.
There was no evidence of food or water for the horse and in this hot sun it was struggling to stay upright on it’s feet.
Suddenly there was a bang and the horse staggered but would not go down as blood rushed down its nose.
I could see that since the pistol was held level and the barrel being horizontal the bullet would exit the animal’s other ear and only causing a wound in the top part of the head.
The Sergeant suddenly growled, “That’s no way ti poot an animal oot it’s misery!”
“ Stand awa’ if you please sir” said the Sergeant and put a round up the spout of his Lee Enfield rifle and standing immediately in front of the animal, put the muzzle of his rifle up to the horse’s head between it’s eyes and there was a bang and the horse’s legs suddenly splayed out and the horse’s body hit the ground like a dead log.
The Officer covered his embarrassment by complimenting the Sergeant who was now spattered with the blood of the animal because it snorted just as he pulled the trigger.
Now all the blood spatter on the ground from the animals nose was a feast for all the hungry flies milling and sucking at the wet patches on the ground.
We formed up again and began our long trek back to our camp.
“Is thar it then?” queried one of our blokes.
“Is wot it” asked another.
“ We came aw this way oot jist tae dae the f----n’ Vet oot o’ a job?”
“ Shut yer moanin’, we wuz dae’in nuthin’ so they jist sent us cos we wuz ‘andy like”
“Onyway it’s ti dae wi’ discipline en at! An’ ah did ‘ear they wuz cleanin’ up
Palestine cos there is some kind o’ disease killin’ ‘osses an’ dogs an’ we cud be next”
I was looking forward to getting back to camp and having a cold drink.
What looked like a mound of tumble weed about the size of a football was to the front of our marching column that veered to march round it.
But one bloke at the rear of the column who had spotted what looked like a bit of fluffy tumble weed side stepped and gave the heap a hefty kick.
It did not take off a bit like a football, instead it jerked and just sort of fell over and from it a noise began to emerge like a huge Church organ with a fat lady sitting on all the lower half of the keys on the key board that suddenly assailed the quite of the afternoon as thousands of hornets each one about three time as large as a European fruit wasp armed with a sting like a medium sized hypodermic needle that lined up to became airborne
Then the three ranks that had been marching so immaculately suddenly bust asunder and began swatting each other with pullovers hastily pulled from haversacks as hordes after clouds of giant hornets swarmed from above and below, stinging bare knees and arms.
One bloke looked like a mummy walking covered in angry stinging hornets and suddenly jumping as another sting went in then another and another.
One bloke looked like he was wearing a black and yellow scarf as the hornets stung him in the neck area until a mate wiped them off and wrapped his pullover round his neck.
With his neck so swollen the bloke was having problems breathing and had to be carried.
A warning was issued later pertaining to Hornet attacks.
“ Do not disturb hornets nests no matter where you find them”
“All ranks are warned that in future when being under siege by hornets, make sure to keep your mouth shut, one man has already choked to death by being stung on the tongue and choked to death.
Tom Barker. 2003
2982252 Pte Barker T.O. 1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Born 23 May 1921.