Saturday, January 22, 2011

Chapter 1 - Complications in Cairo

After hurried, secretive and unobtrusive preparations we slipped away from South Africa, by aeroplane, early one morning in April, 1948, bound for Palestine. Even our closest friends were unaware of our destination or even of our departure.

Sitting in the lounge at the aerodrome, while waiting for the ‘plane to take off, I tried to look “touristy” and non-committal. It had been difficult to keep the secret and to explain all one’s preparatory actions. My excuse had been an intention to make a trip to South West Africa for the purpose of attempting some articles on “Trusteeship”.

Outside on the tarmac the ‘plane’s engines were warming up and inviting to flight but inside the lounge the atmosphere was somnolent and deceptive. Huddled in coats the passengers and a few visitors were drinking coffee and playing a game of make-believe.

Amongst them eight others were on a similar venture to mine and I was aware of and also knew who they were, but neither by look or by word did I convey my knowledge: with deliberate bad manners I cold-shouldered some of my good friends. Everything was working according to plan. The venture had just begun, however, and there was a long way to go and a wary game to play.

At the briefing the previous day we had discussed strategy and procedure and coached one another in acting, amateur psychology and the necessity not to get excited. It was decided to travel openly in groups of two or three and gradually work up an overt acquaintanceship with one another as passengers travelling in the same conveyance normally do in the course of conviviality.

Two of my friends and I were supposedly two farmers and a tourist, two were engineers, two were students and two were merchants. We had to converse mainly on our particular spheres of interest. Five were to land at Rome and four at Paris and to add romantic touch we expatiated on the supposed glories of sunny Italy and gay France.

We had decreed relatives taboo at our departure but allowed a concession to two parents who wished to bid their son farewell provided the mother guaranteed that she would not sob. Few mothers would sob if their son were going to Italy on vacation although they might justifiably do so if their son’s destination were Palestine were things were not too peaceful at the time and the most bloody holocaust was forecast for May 15th when the British were due to relinquish the mandate.

Civilian aeroplanes, bound for Europe, leave Palmietfontein, South Africa at the most unearthly times with special partiality for the small ours of the morning. We were due to leave at four. Nobly she withheld her tears and our departure, being eminently legal for our declared destinations, was uneventful.

So too was the first day’s flight to Nairobi where we made an overnight stop. The nine of us slowly and politely worked up an acquaintanceship with one another as we did too with the remaining passengers and some of the crew. No suspicions appear to have been aroused although the departure of several passengers at one stage of the trip, which reduced the complement to eleven of whom nine were our party, made things seem a bit queer. Especially so when the air-hostess read out the passenger-list at one of the refuelling stops and the abundance of Jewish-sounding names caused a very British businessman, bound for Cairo, to prick up his ears. Fortunately this gentleman was on very friendly terms with us and our artless conversation served to dispel any potential suspicions.

The following day a new batch of pukka, British colonial personnel, apparently ex-army, going “Home,” helped to augment the passenger-list and correct the disparity of groups. They too proved most friendly.

At Nairobi the rest-house was pleasant consisting of a collection of bungalows. As arranged previously, I met a contact from the other group of the Italian party, (for which I was responsible) to discuss the situation. We met in the darkness (in Africa verging on pitch black at this time of the year) between two bangalows. He was somewhat apprehensive. The fellows were talking too much on forbidden topics and might easily be overheard. They should be advised to talk more on business and farming and Italian blondes and so forth. Then we discussed the weighty topic of Lydda airport, Palestine, where we were due to refuel the following day. What was to be our reactions? In our Zionist fervour we might err by extravagant emotional behaviour. Completer indifference on the other hand would be equally inadvisable for we were Jews and could not be honestly indifferent to Israel. A happy mean was necessary.

In the midst of this discussion a noise caused us to turn around. A shape in the darkness, a few feet away, turned out to be a native servant who had apparently been listening to us for some time. Our questions evoked no reply. He knew no English or else was feigning ignorance. We immediately imagined the worst. Having woven such a web of romance around our venture we were susceptible to the most far-fetched interpretations. It was no secret that the British were doing their best to stop illegal immigration to Israel and had been keeping a watchful eye on all routes. Had we been thwarted at this early stage? Some reflection led me realise  that we had been unduly alarmed. In parts of Africa there is such an abundance of cheap labour that hotels and rest houses employ many Africans to wait on guests and not only to perform numerous services for them but also to be constantly in the vicinity in case such services may be required. That was the task of our intruder. Nothing untoward happened in the future to dispute this interpretation.

The following day we continued our journey which proved to be more eventful and  even mildly exiting. From Nairobi we flew over one of the expansive African lakes, Victoria, to the pretty little village of Entebe where we enjoyed a tea consisting of liquid refreshments and an abundance of tropical fruits. Normally ‘planes fly over the Sudan and refuel there but a strike on the Sudanese railways had led to a petrol shortage and out next scheduled stop was to be Asmara and then Lydda, followed by Cairo. Headwinds at Asmara forced a change in the itinerary and after a brief stop at Malakal on the banks of the Nile (best described as an inferno somewhat redeemed by the availability of iced drinks) we flew on to Khartoum.

Here discussions of several hours duration were necessary before petrol could be obtained. Consequently we were unable to reach Lydda that day and landed instead at Cairo towards midnight. We had no tourist visas for Egypt, but having been given repeated and authoritative assurances that these were not necessary for a transit stop, were not unduly concerned.

Carrying out night-baggage we queued up at the customs and immigration counter where two officials were present to attend to us. Advisedly the nine of us did not bunch together but mingled with the other passengers. The queue crawled forward as all queues generally do. Suddenly I noticed the officer direct one of our group to a nearby room at the door of which an armed policeman took up attendance. This member was followed by others of the group although two of the party were spared this procedure.

By the time my turn arrived to be interviewed I was considerably alarmed and perturbed. What would they ask me and what would I say?

            The officer was bitingly polite in tone:
            “What is your nationality? He asked.
           
            “South African,” I replied.
            “That is not what I want to know. What is your religion?”
            “Is that important to you?”
            “Yes. Are you a Hebrew?”

There was no way that he could prove my religion but I did not hesitate to enlighten him on the subject. My friends were already in the room and I wished to be together with them whatever happened.

            “Yes, I am,” I replied, “but frankly I don’t see what concern that is of yours.”
            “Will you please wait in the room?” he asked.

I went to the room. It was the office of an air-company containing some furniture in the form of tables and chairs. My friends were sitting or standing and waiting. If we had wished we could have spoken our South African language, Afrikaans, which the Egyptians would not have understood. It might have made them suspicious, however, and we were eager not to give them any inkling that anything was amiss. I personally had bigger and more urgent problems in the form of a most incriminating document which I was carrying in one of my pockets. It was a slip of paper containing a note in Hebrew giving our names, the purpose of our trip and our destination. This document was to serve as a contact and identification to the underground network of the Haganah in Europe which was to pass us on to Palestine. In South Africa I had pointed out the danger of such a paper to my comrades but since this had been agreed upon as the form of identification there was little I could do about the matter.

In that office in Cairo I made an immediate decision to destroy that note if possible. I had some experience of Egyptians while on active service abroad in the Second World war and I was not prepared to take any unnecessary risks. On the comparatively deserted aerodrome they could easily subject us to a search and might even be emboldened to try rougher tactics.

With my one hand in my pocket and so as not to be observed I tore the piece of paper into a myriad of minute fragments. After that I tore up some other unwanted papers which I also had in my pocket and jumbled all the pieces together.

In full view of the official, who had now joined us in the room, I blatantly tore odd bits of papers into strips and smaller pieces seemingly doing so absentmindedly and trying to feign nervous, fidgety movements. Soon my immediate surrounding was littered by paper so that the mere presence of torn paper, being so widespread, would pass suspicion.

On behalf of the group and brimming with righteous indignation, I began to harangue the official and lodge complaints. He and another officer expressed their deepest sympathy and conveyed their sincerest apologies but claimed that the matter lay outside their hands and that they were merely acting on instructions. Rarely had I seen such saccharine hypocrisy. They were deriving the utmost enjoyment from our situation. Knowing and triumphant glances flashed between then and sickly smirks wreathed their brown faces. With a grammatically correct, if badly accented English they oozed apologies. Their faces and demeanour invited a blow and I am sure that most of us were itching to deliver it but the armed guards, now augmented to three, were a sufficient deterrent and our detainers were well aware of this not unimportant fact.

Speaking as the spokesmen of the group and claiming to be a lawyer by profession, I lodged the most vehement protest at the illegality of the whole proceedings. The officers replied that we were being detained until the plane left by virtue of the fact that we had no transit visas for a stay in Egypt. I claimed that the other passengers had no transit visas either. I knew for a fact that the two of our group who had been allowed to go to the hotel, after professing another religion, had the identical papers that we had and that several of the other passengers had informed me that they had no transit visas.

The official denied my accusation and refused a request to allow me to see other passports. I dilated on an international travellers convention which I said had been agreed to at Geneva and which had been signed by both South Africa and Egypt and allowed for reciprocal concessions. (I had heard vaguely about such a convention but to this day am not sure if there is or was such a document or agreement.) I protested that they had no right to discriminate against us on the ground of religion and that it would be easy for South Africa to apply similar measures and arrest the numerous Egyptian sailors who touched at South African ports.

They were adamant but my arguments managed to wring the admission that we were held because we were Jewish and that the relevant order had been issued by the Minister of the Interior.

At this stage, feigning severe cramps in the region of my abdomen, I was allowed to go to the W.C. duly escorted by an armed guard. On arrival there, persuading the guard to remain outside. I thankfully deposited the torn scraps of my Hebrew document down the sewerage pipes.

Meanwhile the two officers had started a systematic and thorough barrage of questions at all and sundry.

Were we Zionists? What did we think of Palestine? Did we intend going there? Why were we going to Europe? To all of which we answered satisfactorily, protesting the innocence of our motives and the purely educational and vocational nature of our journey.

We were all in excellent spirits and even somewhat too enthusiastic as one often is in difficult situation. Our good mood appeared to rattle and upset our captors who soon desisted in their inquisition.

I half-heartedly broached the possibility of seeing the South African Consul in Cairo, but did not press the matter for we did not wish to involve the South African government in our schemes. In any event we were denied access to the South African Consul and since the plane was due to leave at ten the following morning we decided to reconcile ourselves to the hours until then and to make the most of them. A request for beds was refused, but we were allowed to obtain blankets from the ‘plane and the air-line allocated an Egyptian attendant to provide us with a meal at their expense and to enable us to obtain extras at ours. Being at this individual’s tender mercies we paid accordingly. Those who had been in the army in Egypt assured the others that this was nothing unusual.

The officials offered to take our baggage back to the ‘plane but we refused this offer, for fear of tampering, and also the offer of a warmer room. Ours was warm enough and we had visions of secret wires hidden everywhere in the other room.

That evening I learnt a new Egyptian word, “saba.” Ever so often the guards came and counted us and took the extra precaution of looking behind the door and under the table. They seemed to have little faith in their ability to count and their ejaculation of “saba!” or seven, was accompanied by a glow of triumph.

During the remaining hours of darkness we arranged our own guards so that we should not be caught unawares. The main task of our guards, as it turned out, was to wake the Egyptian guards who regularly fell asleep. We gently shook them awake to prevent them losing their jobs.

Morning took its time in coming. We had little sleep. Tables are not very suitable as beds nor is it easy to doze recumbent in a hard chair. Our friend, the attendant, was soon on hand to take us to breakfast, after we had been allowed to go to the bathroom one by one and escorted. We were not keen to leave our luggage unattended but the chief police officer, who inspired more confidence than the two who had received us on arrival, gave his word of honour, as an officer, that our goods would not be touched. Hoping for the best we removed to some miserable little café where we breakfasted on diminutive eggs and dry chips in surroundings strongly flavoured by that queer oriental smell reminiscent of fish-oil.

Back in the room we awaited the arrival of our fellow passengers. They did not appear. Members of the crew arrived, however, to inform that some fault in the ‘plane’s radio apparatus would force a sojourn at Cairo until the tomorrow or even for another two or three days. The news came as a blow. Action was necessary. The thought of  spending many more days in that room was unthinkable. We had discussions with the air-hostess and the local representative of the airline. New officials were due to relieve our “hosts” and it was believed that they would be more sympathetic. They were. While waiting for them to arrive we wandered around certain parts of the aerodrome ushered like sheep by guards who, unlike their superiors, were friendly in a simple fashion. I have clear recollections of fat Egyptian senior officials complete with fez carrying and reading copies of the latest Arabic illustrated weeklies, sporting fair and luscious Hollywood cover-girls. It was somewhat bizarre.

The new officials granted a concession by allowing us to go to the main restaurant which was clean, comfortable and almost luxurious and where good food was obtainable. Our attendant was out of a job for there was no opportunity for him to operate.

While we were sipping drinks at one of the wicker tables in walked a bevy of Arab dignitaries, dressed to kill. The majority were in Arab costume and one of our officials of the previous evening was in fawning attendance. According to the local press some Arab dignitaries were on a visit to Cairo from neighbouring states of the Arab League for the purpose of discussing the “successful prosecution of the Holy War in Palestine”. Here was irony indeed. Our good humour was not infectious and they glared at us until their ‘plane was ready to convey them to desert lands to inspire the crusade.

The representative of the air-line brought more news. The Minister of the Interior, having graciously granted us a temporary visa for twenty-four hours, ordered us to leave Egypt before its expiry that night. The only obstacle was that no ‘planes were due to leave Egypt that day or night. So further discussions were held with high government officials. Meanwhile then the day passed pleasantly enough. Later that afternoon something eventuated. A compromise was reached. On payment of a deposit (by the company), we would be allowed to go to a hotel provided we gave our parole not to leave its grounds and were prepared to accept an armed guard. Thankfully we agreed and went to the hotel in taxis. It was one of Cairo’s largest and most luxurious. The other passengers were sympathetic. They seemed to think that we had been detained because we had no transit visas. On our arrival they were about to set out for a trip on the Nile. We wanted a bath and amid the inquisitive gaze of everyone who could not appreciate why the noble guardian of the law trailed us, we went to our rooms.

The policeman sat himself on a chair in the passage and waited. A friend and I shared a room and having bathed and dressed we decided to go to the lounge for a drink or two. We had not reckoned with the policeman, however. He halted us and told us to wait till all the others were ready when he would accompany us downstairs. Our protests that this would take some time and that we were thirsty proved to be of no avail. He was, he said, only one man and consequently could not be in seven places at the same time.

When we were not in our rooms, the entrances of which he could watch from the passage, we would have to move together and arrange our plans accordingly. We acquiesced. The policeman was extremely courteous and friendly and, although conscientious to a marked degree, was possessed with a sense of humour. A short time previously there had been a strike of sections of the Cairo police force and he, having remained loyal to authority and the strike having failed, was due for promotion to commissioned rank. Pleasantly we teased him on hie seriousness and devotion to his duties. He too apologised for the inconvenience to which we had been put but, unlike his superiors, I believe that he was sincere in his protestations. Soon all seven of us were ready and we adjourned to the terrace for drinks accompanied by our guardian who accepted an invitation to be our guest. Duty forbade him to imbibe anything stronger than lemonade, he said. An itinerant bootblack being the vicinity we commissioned him to polish the future officer’s boots.

Dinner was a sumptuous affair in the large dining-hall with our guardian watching from the door. Although he was willing to accompany us to a cabaret in the building, the hour for its commencement was rather late so we retired early as we were due to leave in the small hours of the morning.

Our happiness knew no bounds when we boarded the plane again. We had passed the customs with no difficulty despite vague fears that attempts might be made to incriminate us by planting articles in our baggage.

Soon we were leaving behind the sea of lights, which was Alexandria, and flying over the Mediterranean. It was raining at Athens when we landed. We made ourselves as inconspicuous as possible. There were so many English-speaking people around the airport that we feared detection. We believed that the Arab network in Greece and Italy had by now been informed to watch out for us and had been provided with our personal details, culled from our passports by the Egyptians, and perhaps even with our photographs. Later we realised that our imaginations were richer than the situation there and in other places warranted.

On the last lap to Rome over the Corinth canal (to avoid the guerrilla fighting) the Aegean sea and territorial Italy, I gave detailed instructions and advice to the other four who were travelling via Italy. On the pretext of explaining the geography of the land I sat next to each one of them in turn and a muffled voice assisted by the throb of aeroplane engines made it difficult for us to be overheard. Having spent many months in Italy before I knew the country and its customs well.

We had decided to take the most elaborate precautions in view of our detention in Egypt and particularly in view of the impending general elections in Italy. There was a considerable communist scare at the time and talk of agents from Russia and other Eastern European countries. It was most likely that all visitors would be given more than the usual scrutiny and attention. We had no fear of being considered communists for we had no special interests in the elections but feared lest our destination be revealed. On arrival at Italy we were to go to separate hotels.

We would operate in one group of two and one group of three. I, in the latter group, would meet a contact from the first group at specified times at a designated spot next to one of the pillars of the Colosseum. There arrangements would be made for travelling to Milan on the next stage of our trip.

Arriving at Rome in the sunniest of weather we completed the customs and other formalities without any trouble. Here our plans went somewhat awry. The air-company suggested talking us all to one hotel where their offices were and we acquiesced. Once arrived there we all decided to remain there since it was a large hotel, but in separate rooms. The necessity for Coliseum meetings was thus obviated.
That morning the other four of our main group had flown on to Paris and we had parted with the minimum of ceremony, as planned.

I had been in Rome before as a soldier during and after the Second World War. It was not the same Rome. During the war people had been down and out but had lived strongly in anticipation of better things and improved conditions when peace and prosperity came. Now the majority of them were still down and out, but they hoped for nothing and were disillusioned and cynical and materialistic and grasping because the bubble of post-war dreams had been burst. It was awkward being a tourist. Their “spivs “and “drones” could recognise one immediately and one was never left in peace. They were always following offering to buy currency of sell something or perform diverse services. One had to be wary. I tried to dress more like an Italian and less like a tourist and succeeded in obtaining some peace and even in being stopped by Italian policeman who asked me where such and such a street was.

At the hotel we treated one another as casual acquaintances but met surreptitiously in one another’s rooms to plan our trip to Milan. We were eager to hurry in order to get to Palestine as soon as possible but decided to spread out departure over a few days and to catch separate trains. It was even seriously considered that I go to Milan via Genoa so as to put our opponents, whoever they might be, of the chase.

Looking back now I realise that we considerably overestimated our importance in the eyes of Arab espionage.

 I boarded a train to Milan the following day. It so happened that a very good friend of mine getting married in Milan and I wished to attend the wedding. Plans for rendezvous with the group had been made, the meeting place to be the famous gothic cathedral. Buildings like this and the Colosseum, being always populated in their precincts with sundry and numerous citizens made a meeting of two or three people a usual occurrence.

Arriving at the station I was surprised to see two of our group on the platform surrounded by all their baggage and looking at a loss. Apparently they intended to travel on the same train as I. I ignored them and engaged in a friendly conversation with an Italian porter.

Suddenly one of the South Africans interrupted me.
           
“Excuse me, “he asked “Do you speak English?”

“More or less,” I answered, having considerable difficulty in stifling on incipient laugh.

“Perhaps you would be so kind as to help my friend and I. We want to catch the train to Milan and do not know what to do with our luggage. We would ask a porter but they do not seem to know any English and we do not know any Italian.”

“Certainly.”

I arranged matters with the porter and continued a chatty conversation with my friends. I asked them wither they were going, whence they came, whether they liked Italy or not and random questions about my land of birth, South Africa. We parted on the arrival of the train.

The train journey was fast and comfortable and as we rushed through the Italian countryside I was amazed at the rapid reconstruction that had taken place since the war. Of some of the stations and towns and cities through which we passed I had vivid memories of three or four years back when ruins and gaping chasms of destruction met the eye.

I was happy to be in Milan. It is a city whose pulsing, throbbing vitality I love. I felt as if I had never left.

I attended the wedding and the reception for the bride and groom. There was little austerity in Italy now. In Rome I had already noticed the variety of luxury goods and foods available everywhere and at a price. The women were as pretty and as well dressed as ever, using the fashion of the “new look” to the fullest advantage with attractive wasp-waist dresses.

The general elections were in the air. Posters and banners slashed the hoardings and fluttered in the streets. Handbills littered the pavement and little groups in continual session on the “duomo” square hawked and discussed the merits of their particular parties. Milan on the day of wedding was alive with red banners and red-kerchiefed Milanese.

Togliatti, leader of the Italian communists, was to speak.

When he did an audience estimated at more than a quarter of a million stood in the square for more than two hours to listen. The police were everywhere and in the days that followed one grew accustomed to the sight of lorry-loads of police riding round the city and making raids on various buildings.

The following day all our group had arrived and had contacted me. One of them became acquainted with an Arab in Rome who had come to the station to see him off.

In Milan I was to deliver my “charges” and myself into the safe custody of the Jewish Defence Organisation, the Haganah, who would get us to Palestine. There was one problem. I had destroyed my identity document in Cairo. How could I prove our bona fides?

It was easier than I had expected. While on active service in Italy I had taken an interest in Zionist activities and had contacts who could now identify me. My story was believed. Stage one of our “odyssey” had been complicated.

We were to remain in Italy longer than we had anticipated.

Chapter 2 - In an A.P. Camp in Italy

 The Haganah offices were by no means difficult to find. Apparently no attempt had been made to camouflage them. Posters, calling to service in Palestine, decorated the walls and news-bulletins and reports were splattered everywhere. The “rival” Irgun Zvai Leumi had also taken what wall-space it could to advance its policy and to criticise the actions of the Haganah. Nor were these differing opinions confined to pamphlets, for little groups from opposing factions were wont to gather in the lane outside the building and argue. Vehemence was not lacking and once or twice recourse was had to fisticuffs.

In view of the ostentation of purpose exhibited, my asking whether I should bring my comrades one by one evoked merely a friendly laugh and the invitation to come in a bunch for it would make no difference.

So I brought them all over together and our whole intricate web of security seemed to have dissolved from disuse.

We expressed a wish to be off to Palestine immediately or at least as soon as was possible. A boat was due to leave in about a week’s time and we were promised a passage on it. Meanwhile, the contact told us, we could sojourn at the hotels where we were staying and make the most of our days in Milan until summoned.  Our expenses would be paid. There was a camp where people were kept in transit but it would be much more comfortable at the hotels. In our idealism we refused the proffered luxury and also the offer of money. We asked to be sent to the camp so that we could meet the others, live with them and get to know them. It was against our principles to accept preferential treatment.
           
Our Spartan desires were not gainsaid and we were instructed to gather at the offices the following afternoon with all our luggage. A char-a-banc would take us to a refugee transit camp.

There was a mixed collection of passengers on the char-a-banc the following day when it wended its way through the busy streets of Milan, without attracting the least bit of attention, although some of us found it difficult to believe that to the outside world this seemed simply another mundane trip.

A warm reception awaited us at the camp which had once been a beautiful villa set in spacious grounds. Another party with their baggage boarded the vehicle as soon as we had debussed. They were on route to a port and a boat. For a moment, in our wilder hopes, we had thought that perhaps we would be taken directly to the port, but we were not to be so fortunate.

There were touching scenes of farewell and countless expressions of envy for the young men and women who occupied the places we had vacated. After their departure there was a moment for rest and an opportunity to pause and survey the surroundings. There were about one hundred inmates all told. Five were South African friends who overwhelmed us in their impetuosity to garner recent news and wheedle South African cigarettes. They had dark forebodings, as comparative “old-timers” at an institution always have for newcomers. They had been waiting several weeks and were weary of the delay. A similar fate was forecast for us. Our spirits fell. They laughed when we said that we had been promised that we would only be there a week. It happened that they were correct. We stayed at the camp for more than three weeks and they remained with us.

Those were very interesting, it not very comfortable or pleasant weeks. I saw, in miniature, the problems that I was to see in Israel later. The Nazi policy and its aftermath had left its mark and had produced characteristics, both good and bad. Here was a psychologist’s paradise where it would be inhuman to be merely scientific in ones behaviour and observations for one had to make compensations and try to understand. Those youngsters, our own age, had had no youth in any true sense of the term. They had aged too quickly with no opportunity to acquire many of the refinements of civilisation. Their memories were one-sided and warped. They had no happy past but they hoped to build a happy future in Palestine. They knew that they would have to struggle and fight and perhaps even die. One could not but forgive their failings although these sometimes annoyed and inconvenienced.

Those in our camp had been especially selected as the more idealistic and pioneering of the [Displaced persons] D.P’s of Jewish faith who wanted to go to Palestine. They had a priority passage for they wished to go into the army or to pioneer collective settlements on socialist principles.

Despite the unhappiness of their past they were not morose and dejected but lively and witty and gay and bubbling with practical jokes.

Coming mainly from Poland, Hungary and Romania, they looked up to the South Africans with respect and even gratitude. Not that they humbled themselves or regarded themselves as inferior. It was more a question of appreciation for the generous succour South African Jewry had given them and Palestine over a long period of years and because we had volunteered to come to Palestine to assist in the struggle. They themselves and given up little, they said. Europe held nothing for them. They had left no comfortable life and luxury.

In the English-speaking countries things were different, however, they said. They appreciated our giving up our professions and our homes and our automobiles and coming thousands of miles to risk our lives in upholding a cause in which we believed. At times they seemed somewhat awed by the knowledge that we had had a much higher standard of living than that to which they had been accustomed during the war years.

For this reason perhaps they raised no complaint at the fact that the first group of South Africans had their own kitchen, where they prepared their own food and the food for the Palestinian staff who dined with them. A protest was soon heard, however, from a most unexpected quarter. While the first group of South Africans saw nothing amiss in this arrangement our group did. We thought it wrong for us to have a separate kitchen and consequently, as it turned out, better food. Were we not all going to the same country and for the same cause? Discussions took place on the subject and at times waxed bitter and heated. Matters came to a head when the Danes arrived. They were nine and had come from Copenhagen.

Without exaggeration I can say that they were some of the finest fellows I have ever met in my life. In the months to come I came to know them very well and appreciated them all the more. The new bone of contention was where would the Danes eat? No aspersions could be cast on their habits, manners and culture which were of the highest. As no further accommodation was available in the little mess for any more people, the Danes could not eat with us, although they were keen to do so. The alternative was for them to eat with the mass of the D.P’s. If they ate with the D.P’s why should we eat separately? The idealists carried the day. It was decided that except for the staff all should eat together.

It must be admitted that in the future the idealist had moments when they questioned their idealism and the others said: “We told you so.” The new arrangement was a come-down, not only in the quality of the food but even more so in the manner in which it was prepared and served and in the lack of cleanliness.

The hygienic conceptions of the D.P’s were rudimentary. The first batch of South Africans had been amongst the first group of people to move into the villa and they had had to shoulder the burden of making the place habitable, for until they came others had been satisfied with very primitive spring-cleaning. The latter had little appreciation of the purpose of the flush lavatories and water-closets and did not bother about them at all one they were blocked. Instead of cleaning them they ignored them and preferred to use vacant plots of ground outside. So the South Africans cleaned them.

On our initiative the Palestinian staff gave the D.P’s lectures on hygiene and related topics which helped a little.

The Palestine staff, young and friendly, were fine people and we got on well with most of them. One or two, however, were vain, conceited, domineering and boastful. These we had little time for and soon came into conflict with them. There was one in particular, by the name of Amos, who believed in treating everyone like a naughty school-child and was continually shouting, blustering and threatening. His tactics did not work with us and we quite openly gave him our opinion of them. He apologised and said that he was thinking in terms of and acting in that fashion for the sake of the refugees and that it was not meant for us. We took up the cudgels on their behalf although it was difficult to know where to draw the line. Obviously a certain camp discipline was necessary and we obeyed such necessary measure although we were under no obligation to do so and often found them irksome.

At capricious regulations we rebelled, however. Amos laid down a rule that when the table were lad for meals and the food had been served no one was commence to eating until he had given his permission. He would bellow “Good Appetite!” as a signal and then strut away. Once he tried to force someone, who had eaten without his permission, to leave the table. The fellow, a bulking, clumsy individual refused.

Amos tried to remove him by force and we intervened. Afterwards we sent a delegation to him and criticised his policy. He replied that the people were accustomed to strict Gestapo-like discipline from the concentration camps and that his policy and demeanour were justified. We advanced views to the contrary. Anything savouring of the camps and the gruesome experiences of the past was out of place here. The refugees should be made to forget and be taught to be free. They should be treated as individuals who could think for themselves. To a small degree the victory was ours. Amos repented and reformed as far as it was in his nature to do so.

Another contentious point was that of obtaining permission to leave the camp. Many of us wanted to see a bit of Italy while waiting. Generally, and almost invariably, our requests for leave were refused. There was nothing to do to stop us walking out, of course, but we were reluctant to be absent in case a boat should leave at a few hours notice. We had no definite news about ships and shipping.

Amongst themselves the Danes and South Africans observed a voluntary, self-imposed discipline and rarely absented themselves from the camp. Meanwhile, in the nature of an honour and as a sign of trust, we were asked to undertake the duty of guarding the camp gates during the day or so as to prevent unauthorised persons from entering and the refugees from leaving without a pass. Every effort was made to keep the refugees inside and because of this we bore our restrictions with good grace. Most of the refugees had no money or else very little. None was given them so that if they went outside to a town the less strong-willed were in the habit of taking sundry articles from the camp’s equipment, such as blankets, and selling them on the black market to raise funds. The leaders of the camp were perturbed lest they be caught and the police make investigations which might lead to the camp. The obvious solution was to provide the refugees with an allowance when they went out on pass, but either there was not sufficient money available or else this expedient was not considered. Nor were we overflowing with money and many of us had none at all. There was a fruit and nut vendor who came to peddle his wares daily and by purchases one was able to augment the meagre diet. Often it was better to buy nothing at all, if there were many in the vicinity who had no money and one could not afford to buy for them too, although whenever the latter course was possible most of us distributed our purchases amongst the others.

I found the meals an ordeal and I’m not fussy about food. One had to eat for one could obtain sustenance no place else. With regular monotony the diet consist of bread-rolls, oily soup in unclean receptacles and big, massive helping of potatoes and onions, which the refugees devoured in large quantities but to which we could never accustom ourselves. Most unappetising was the greasy and unhygienic way the food was served.
           
To return to the gate. We also had to keep people out for security reasons. It was difficult to know who was “persona grata” and who was not. In case of doubt one had to summon Amos and he was often a devil of a time in coming. Meanwhile the visitor fussed and fumed. Once Amos was not annoyed with me because I let a husband in to see his wife whom he had not set eyes upon for some time. Apparently Amos had a grudge against him.

Later Amos became very friendly and came and sat at the gate and chatted. Unfortunately we had no common language. He knew no English and we knew little Yiddish or Hebrew. He generally talked about revolvers. There are a surprisingly large variety of makes and calibres and Amos was eager to air his knowledge of these lethal weapons.

 Language was a big problem at this camp. The staff spoke a very good English on the whole but the refugees knew no English at all. Yiddish was their medium. Some of us knew Yiddish but many didn’t. Not knowing Yiddish well I spoke Italian to such refugees as knew the language.

The Danes each spoke several languages including English so here there was no problem. The big problem was the Hungarian group who knew neither Yiddish nor Hebrew. Fortunately one of their number knew both these languages and acted as an interpreter. It was awkward being in the presence of one’s own people, inspired by the same ideals and yet being unable to converse with them. They might as well have come from another planet. There was a barrier. Yet several months later, when we met in Israel, we could converse for we had learnt Hebrew.
           
The South Africans shared rooms with the Danes with whom we were on very friendly terms and in each of our rooms we had a wireless-set. Every night we tuned in to news broadcasts in a variety of languages and had “open house.” There were regular sessions to cater for the demand for a variety of languages, which continued until a late hour. It seemed like a cross between the League of Nations and the tower of Babel. Having little else to do we spent many hours daily listening to the wireless, particularly to the U.N.O. debates on Palestine from Lake Success. We compared the B.B.C. News and that of the American Forces Radio, delighting in the discrepancies between the two. A morse expert in our midst also made unsuccessful attempts to receive the Haganah transmitting station in Palestine.

We grew somewhat tired, bored and impatient at the delay. We were eager to be in Palestine. The taciturn staff gave us no definite information. We hardly saw them. Try as we might we found out nothing. Those of us who knew a little Hebrew never revealed the fact as we hoped that the staff would talk openly in front of us in Hebrew, not expecting us to understand. In this manner information might have been obtained. All to no avail. The days passed lazily and tediously. We gleaned information about the backgrounds of one another; we taught the Roumanians South African songs and dances and learnt theirs in turn. They were very lively and one had to be on one’s guard continually for they were always up to god-natured mischief.

Training was limited to learning drill in Hebrew and to lessons in the stave or big stick, to which the Arabs sometimes have recourse. Football was a regular pastime and the more conscientious spent several hours daily learning Hebrew.

We suffered from a dearth of suitable feminine company. Girls there were, but almost all of them were married, despite their youth, to boys not much older than themselves. Early marriage seems to have been the rule for since the couples intended to go to agricultural co-operatives, where they would both be provided for, there were no economic obstacles to matrimony. The South Africans and Danes often had discussions amongst themselves as to whether the girls in the camp appealed to them and the verdict was generally in the negative.
           
Perhaps the fact that they were married and the lack of a common language never enabled us to really understand them, but we found them so different from the young women of our countries of origin. They were completely lacking in femininity. They used no make-up and were hefty and thick in build. Their legs and calves were massive and several of them wore boots. In their mannerisms too they were masculine and aggressive.

The accommodation question was not satisfactory at the camp. Most of the inhabitants were billeted in three or four large rooms where men and woman, married and single, all lived with little or no privacy.

Our hopes of being in Palestine by May 15th, when the Jewish State was due to be proclaimed, were fast receding when the situation took a new turn. We were prepared for our departure and given instructions. We were issued with new identities and often with new names and data which had to be memorised and we had to mark our baggage accordingly. Our trip had been planned down to the most minute detail.

Early in May we once more boarded a char-a-banc, this time for a lengthier trip to an Italian port. A trailer had been attached and with this load the going was slow, occupying the better part of a day.

Our group boarded the ship, in a party, with the greatest of ease. Some “tourists” from countries of Eastern Europe had come aboard. It was a pleasant little Italian vessel, clean and neat and the food proved to be wholesome and well prepared.

At the camp we had been warned to be cautious and to play our part correctly, not talk English and so forth. That was a difficult demand for we had to struggle to converse in Yiddish. But apparently even this was unnecessary according to the Haganah agent at the port. Everyone knew who we were and did not seem to care. We continued the pretence for a day or two, however, mainly with the waiters with whom we had regular contact. It was awkward. They spoke German to us and we made no reply or else spoke in Italian. Despite the inscrutable look common to waiters we were sure that they knew everything so we began to speak English and felt more at ease.
           
The ships departure was delayed for a day by some mechanical fault and, on advice, we stayed below as for as possible. Most of the passengers were “attached” to our scheme so we had quite a jolly little company for there were others also en route to Israel, who had not been in the camp.

Thanks to the elements the voyage was pleasant. There was a woman on board who claimed to have something to do with the Haganah. She was forever telling us about Palestine and what a wonderful country it was. She was quite a good dice player and we played this game for amusement but not for money.

A minor uproar was caused on board when we were informed that we were expected to pay a few shillings for deck-chairs, It was a catastrophe for people in our financial standing. Still we managed to hire a few chairs.

One day we were steaming along pleasantly when an Italian destroyer loomed over the horizon and gave chase. It was a menacing situation for she came for us with all her guns manned and forced us to stop. A boarding party came to the ship. Our captain was quite co-operative, but the sailors on the destroyer still manned their guns while all our passengers stood by the rails and awaited developments. Nothing spectacular happened. It seemed as if they were merely looking for arms. Finding none and checking that the ship’s papers were in order the boarding party returned to the destroyer. There was another abortive scare. It had been announced that we would call at Alexandria, Egypt. Not a pleasant thought for those of us who had been in Cairo recently. We were warned to keep below deck all the time and to make no transactions with Egyptian hawkers who might come on board, lest they accuse us of some trumped up charge and call in authority. The fact that Italian law applies on an Italian ship was some consolation. Apparently the Egyptians could not force us to leave the boat. These conjectures were never put to the test, however. The boat did not call at Alexandria. Rumour said that the Egyptians had warned the captain not to stop there.

The burning question then was Tel Aviv of Haifa? Both are ports, but it would be easier to get ashore, without closer investigation, at Tel Aviv, the all Jewish city where the port and immigration officials were Jewish, than at Haifa where the majority of such officials were British. The difficulty was that Tel Aviv port facilities were comparatively poor and passengers had to go ashore in lighters. Even this depended on the roughness, or rather calmness, of the sea. If the waves were even somewhat unruly the passengers would have to land at Haifa. One could only wait and see.
           
On the night of Sunday, May 9th, we neared the shores of Palestine. I shall never forget that night. The sea was calm and the air was stirred only by a faint, cooling breeze. The sky was a starry palace. It was quiet ane peaceful when some of us gathered on deck and with a portable radio searched the ether for verbal contact with Palestine. The woman who played dice was the mentor. At last. Out of the darkness and the stars came a voice in Hebrew. It was “Kol Yisrael,” the “Voice Of Israel,” calling from the troubled land. There were reports of clashes and casualties.

And then something followed that deeply impressed me. The football results. And a sports talk. If a nation facing its destiny and preparing for a struggle had time for football and sport all was well.

We retired, most of us to get no sleep and were up early the next morning for a first glimpse of the shores of the holy land.

Chapter 3 - Tel Aviv on the threshold of a new state

 Tel Aviv was sighted in the half-light of the early morning. It appeared drab and unimpressive in outline- a cluster of buildings cresting rolling stretches of sand. Not a scene to dazzle the eye. Yet it pleased the heart. We were like pilgrims seeing the promised land. The mere fact of being there was important. Especially at that time for the State had not yet been proclaimed.

The sea was unsteady and murky and the boat rolled from side to side with a gentle swell. The possibility of going ashore seemed remote. Shapes in the gathering light turned out to be other ships lying at anchor in the bay and they rose and fell in vision with the motion of the waves.

Slowly the city’s outlines were accentuated as the day broke. The massive and towering Reading power-station on the seafront loomed larger and larger.

The small vessel, bobbing and pitching like a cork, was a lighter on its way from the port and coming towards us. Perhaps it was possible to land after all. The passengers crowded the rails in expectation, watching the progress of the sturdy little craft as it dived and squirmed in the tossing waves. Soon its occupants were visible. A mixed bunch, some tough looking and weather beaten, others clad in suits and holding brief-cases.

They drew nearer and endeavoured to tie up alongside. No easy task and one which took them the better part of ten minutes and was accomplished only after several unsuccessful attempts. A ladder was lowered from our ship and one by one and precariously they came aboard.

Willing and strong hands helped them from the lighter on to the ladder and from the ladder onto the ship. The passengers looked on nervously expecting someone to fall into the sea at any moment. They seemed to be well versed at their task, however. The Hebrew in which their instructions were shouted came as sweet music to our ears.

The passengers were ordered to report in the lounge with all their papers. We were going ashore at Tel Aviv. A queue formed outside the door and whispered discussions were held as to whether the officials were Jewish or not. It was impossible to tell from their features.

My turn arrived soon;
           
“Where do you come from?” the official asked.

“X”. I said, giving the name of the Eastern European country which my papers said I had come.

“I want the truth.”

“X,” I persisted.
He was getting impatient. “Listen,” he said, “I’m one of you, you can tell me the truth.”

I remained somewhat suspicious. “X,” I replied. He was at his wit’s end. “Don’t you realise that this is Tel Aviv and that I am Jewish?”

I took a chance. “I come from South Africa.”

“That’s what I wanted to know all along.”

This same individual asked the Danes whether they had come “to shoot” and they were rather taken aback by the abruptness of this question.

Going ashore was a minor adventure in itself and it took some hours to disembark us all for the lighter had to make several trips. No one fell into the water fall although there were several narrow shaves. The trip from the boat to quay was agony -something like riding a bucking bronco. Many people became sea-sick in those few minutes. Touching the shore of Palestine at last was more than adequate compensation for all the discomforts.

Tel Aviv is not a big port and on superficial observation seemed to conduct its stevedoring and other operations very primitively. Port machinery was lacking and many task appeared to be inefficiently manhandled. Uploading cargo from the ships onto lighters was an arduous and slow process.

Some time passed before our luggage arrived and was cleared. A man had been sent to attend to the English speaking volunteers and we were warmly welcomed and given tea and sandwiches.

Then we were put in buses and taken to an hotel in the centre of the city. There were few signs that a war was imminent and that severe fighting was already in progress. Large brick barricades in certain streets, to ward off sniper’s bullets from Arabs atop Jaffa’s minarets and shooting into Tel Aviv’s streets, were the only indications of a state of war. Tel Aviv was alive, the streets were crowded and the shops were busy but the people did stop momentarily to look at the singing busloads of new immigrants. They always do in Palestine, even now.

Several building and blocks of flats were in the course of erection with workmen busy on the scaffoldings. It was a good omen for building is sign of confidence in the future and people don’t build if they expect an enemy to drive them out.

The populace, especially the women, were well dressed and brisk and alive. To a Jew a first impression of Tel Aviv is moving and thought provoking. All these people were Jewish, the waiters, taxi drivers, porters, bootblacks, policemen, firemen and even the beggars.

All these large buildings had been built by Jewish labour and all these streets had been laid by Jewish hands. Everywhere signs of a people reborn. Shops, and pharmacies and cafes and cinemas and stationers and street kiosks with signboards in Hebrew and English. A dream world for the volunteers who felt that what they had come to defend was indeed worth fighting for.

We were billeted in an hotel. There was no full-scale mobilisation yet and while the Haganah had to some extent come out from the underground in Jewish areas, there was no military ostentation as yet and few camps. Our baggage having been deposited we were taken to a tented camp on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, which was the reception depot for all recruits. They were sent here from all corners of Palestine and then assigned to units and turning camps. Youngsters were continually coming and going. Fine fellows, healthy and strong and determined - the pick of Palestine’s youth.

The camp was staffed by Jews who had served with the British army in the Second World War and most of them knew English so we had no language difficulty.

We met all types, speaking all languages and speaking English with a variety of accents. Palestinians have a knack for learning languages. A blonde, very Aryan looking, Jew amused us by his Scottish accent. He had never been to Scotland but had been in a Scottish unit. Another spoke a very good Afrikaans, learnt from South African soldiers in Egypt. We were soon made to feel at home.

Our coming was a link with world Jewry, a sign of confidence in the future and a promise of aid to come. The fact that most of us had had several years of active military experience was additionally welcome. We were inundated with questions, an experience to which we were soon to accustom ourselves. How many more are coming was always the question. And arms? Our answers bordered on the optimistic as far as manpower was concerned, but we could offer nothing definite or encouraging on the question of arms.

That day we joined the army and completed numerous forms. Pretty young girls did most of the clerical work and they were extremely friendly and efficient and asked many questions that had nothing to do with the information sought on the forms.

The problem of now arose of what units we were to join. It was difficult to decide since so much information was lacking. Nothing definite was known as to the few existing units or even as to the plans for intended units. If a man had tank experience where should he go? Did the Jews have any tanks? If not were they expecting to obtain any? No answers. Were there any guns? No one knew or if they knew they would not talk. So some joined the air-force (in anticipation of ‘planes to come) some the armoured cars and some the infantry.

Jack, Uri and I formed a category on our own. In South Africa a private doctor, applying rigid army standards, had rejected us as unfit for military service. We had come across hoping to find our way into the army and, failing that, we intended to go to a frontier agricultural settlement where manpower was urgently required. Here in Tel Aviv there was no medical examination - no time for that! If a man thought that he was fit and was willing that was sufficient (My first real medical examination was to come ten months later.) Jack, Uri and I had all had combat experience and we were told that our military knowledge would come in very useful and that we were badly needed by the army. We all expressed a willingness and a desire to join the army. A hitch arouse, however. The representative of the agricultural settlement claimed us. The settlement, right on the order of both Syria and the Lebanon, was urgently in need of men who knew how to handle arms. They were expecting an attack at any moment. It was mainly a South African settlement, many of our friends were there and since we had had some affiliations with the group in South Africa we had a moral obligation to be with them. There was considerable justification in some of the representative’s arguments. The three of us, having just arrival in the country, were unable to weigh the merits of the two alternatives and left the decision to the representative and the camp commander.

The representative, a skilful debater, carried the day. A compromise was reached. We would go to the kibbutz (settlement ), as military personnel, for one month at the end of which the position would be reviewed. By then we should have had an opportunity to see where we could be of most use.

So we were in the army and until our departure to the kibbutz, in a few days time, we were to remain in Tel Aviv at an hotel and have our meals in the camp. We were each issued with a pair of khaki trousers and a khaki shirt. These, together with a few other items, comprised a partial issue of uniform. An identity card was issued and we were informed that the pay would be two pounds (six dollars) per month. Its receipt was dependent on the availability of the money and there was no guarantee of payment.

The uniform was not particularly distinctive for many people in Tel Aviv wear Khaki in summer. That night we saw the town with the help of a guide, one of our recruiting agents. The streets were brightly lit and the colourful and well-stocked shop-windows seemed as remote from war as anything can be. Prices were extremely high, especially for foodstuffs, these costing more than double their price in South Africa.

According to our guide this would be our last night of luxury. Now we could afford to buy and shop anywhere and frequent the most expensive cafes, but once we were soldiers the situation would be different. Then our meagre pay and the high prices would force us to stint ourselves of most things. Not a very comforting thought, especially since it appeared obvious that the civilians could do with a little austerity too.

We went to one of the largest cafes for a beer. An orchestra was playing and the café was crowded with young and middle-aged people.

“There seems to be no war or national emergency,” some-one remarked to the guide. “Look, everyone seems obvious of what is happening in other parts of Palestine. Why aren’t they in the army?”

“They are all doing their duty, quietly and secretly,” he answered.
“All these pretty girls are in the Haganah and play their part doing guard and convoy duty. People have a hard time in Israel and a dangerous time so that when they can snatch some moments of relaxation and pleasure they make the most of it. Only a few days ago bullets and mortars from Jaffa were killing and maiming in this very area. We cannot afford to live in the past.”
           
I believed him then. Later I realised that this statement should have been qualified. The people rallied magnificently in Palestine but shirkers were not absent and many did not volunteer for any task if they could avoid them. It was only after the proclamation of the State that compulsory mobilisation was introduced and all, shirkers included, were forced to play their part.

At the camp that afternoon we had been warned to resist the blandishments of the “Irgun Zvai Leumi” , known in Palestine generally by the name “Etzel”, an abbreviation of their full little. According to reports they were making lavish offers to English-speaking ex-servicemen in order to encourage them to join their ranks. Bait included the promise of a commission, thirty pounds a month and the use of a car. So we kept our eyes skinned for suspicious looking characters, but never found any. Thanks to them, however, we were most apprehensive about speaking English in public. As it was, the sound of English in Tel Aviv would cause the surrounding populace to pause, stare and cast looks. The reaction of Etzel members was known to be more drastic. One of my friends, who looks very Aryan and speaks with what might be called an Oxford accent, was surrounded and stopped by some men one day and prodded with a revolver barrel. He was asked for his papers and succeeded in proving that he was Jewish and a member of the Haganah. In view of his experiences and reports of similar cases we were reluctant to talk English in public. There were too few English-speaking volunteers in town for the public to regard the presence of one of them as a normal occurrence.

A little after midnight, having returned from the café, someone asked us for a match. We obliged. He was leaning against a telephone pole and was a Yemenite Jew. The Yemenites come originally from Yemen in Arabia and are brown in colour, cheerful and pleasant. Many of them joined the Etzel. This one claimed to be a member. It emerged from the conversation that we had with him- it is easy to begin a conversation in Palestine - that he had taken part in the fighting for Jaffa. He shifted his position and pointed a several indentations in the wood of the pole. “Sniper’s bullets from Jaffa,” he said. On request he told the story of the attack on Jaffa claiming all praise for his organisation and none for the Haganah who had gone to the assistance of “Etzel”. Then he asked the question we inevitably received. “Will arms be coming from America and South Africa?” As usual we had to reply in the negative.

We counter-questioned. “Have you any heavy stuff in Palestine?”

We had often discussed the matter amongst ourselves. Did the Jewish underground have any heavy armaments? If they had were they keeping them hidden until May 15th ? Uri, my friend, was very optimistic.

“You wait for May 15th and then you will see them bring out several batteries of guns, and half-tracks and many tanks”. My personal expectations were not so sanguine. I was unable to see where they could have got them all from and where they could hide them. Still I expected a few artillery pieces, some anti-aircraft guns and even one or two tanks. Even I was to be disappointed.

The Yemenite was big talk, however. “Leave it to’ ‘Etzel’,” he boasted. “We haven’t been sleeping like the Haganah. We have guns and tanks - Shermans. You’ll see them all in a few days time when the Mandate ends and we bring them out of hiding.”

“We felt happier. A few Sherman tanks would come in useful.

“Are you sure we have Shermans?”

“Are you doubting my word? I’ve seen them with my own eyes.”

On the strength of his reply we slept well. That was my first experience of what they call a “schwitzer” in Palestine - a braggart. “Schwitzers” are supposed to retail “Cheesbadim” which is an Arabic word used in Hebrew to connote tall stories.

Early in our army career we had our first experiences of Palestinian military red tape. We were supposed to be at the camp for breakfast early the next morning, but had some trouble finding the right bus for we did not know our way around. At the gate the guard delayed us since we were unable to understand him or to explain who we were. As a result we arrived a few minutes after the meal had commenced, but a considerable time before its conclusion. So we were refused food by some blustering Sergeant-Major, who appeared to be trying to imitate a typical regimental Sergeant-Major of the British army. It was not the last example of imitation I was to see. Unfortunately I was to witness many more and they appeared as irrational and as stupid for the simple reason that this was not the British army and the temperament of the local soldier demanded a different approach.

Most of the N.C.O’s in our section sympathised with us and smuggled food from the kitchen so that we did not go hungry. Lunch was another example of the Sergeant- Major’s inefficiency. Everyone had to parade for lunch at one o’clock sharp and march in units to the mess-hall. Consequently all the columns converged on the mess-hall at exactly the same time and the queue stretched into the far distance. There was only one queue so a meal entailed a long wait in the hot sun. The food was ample and nourishing, containing large quantities of vegetables and fruit. After some time a few of the South Africans, tired of this more or less vegetarian diet of cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, fruit, cheese, cream and herring, sarcastically began to enquire whether they were thought to be goats.

We spent little time in the camp, however, having nothing particular to do there. The Anglo-Saxon volunteers (as we were called) kept in close contact with one another. Those who had joined the air-force were also billeted in hotels but ate together in a civilian restaurant. This fact was supposed to be a top secret but fellow dinners must have been well aware of what was going on.

The air-force, then in its embryo stage and consisting almost exclusively of a few piper cubs, was a frequent topic of conversation. Its exploits were legion and its birth pangs many. Several people, who had had little or no experiences in aviation, were trying to exert undue influence in its management and their obstinacy was breaking the hearts of those Anglo-Saxon veteran pilots and ground and aircrews who really knew their jobs. Some stupid mistakes were made as a result of this obstinacy. It seemed to be the practice in Palestine to learn the hard way and not to regard a straight line as the shortest distance between two points. Yet the air force did a wonderful job of work, then mainly in supplying besieged settlements and in maintaining contact with Jerusalem whose life-line was in jeopardy. A bitter struggle was being waged then for sections of the Jerusalem road with the Jews launching an all-out effort to open the road although it was really the duty of the British to keep it passable and secure. The cream of the country’s youth were risking their lives on the highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the price paid was enormous. Sections of road were captured but arms and men were not available in sufficient quantities to open the road completely. At the same time the epic resistance of Kfar Etzion and three little settlements in its vicinity was evoking the admiration and sympathy of all the Jews and many who were not Jews.

These settlements, in the midst of wholly Arab areas, had repulsed countless attack and were still resisting the might of the well-equipped Arab legion. It was only a matter of days now. The settlements could not be saved. They were completely isolated. One could clearly read the sadness on the faces of the air-crew when they returned from the flights to Kfar Etzion. It was hopeless. They had dropped what could be spared but the Arabs were swarming all over. Then one day their faces were sadder than ever. It was all over. Only smoking and charred remains were left.

In Tel Aviv and all over Palestine there were discussions on the wisdom of deciding to fight it out at Kfar Etzion when the settlements might perhaps have been evacuated. Subsequent events and history proved the decision amply justified. The might of the Arab Legion was blunted there and valuable time was given to Jerusalem which helped the Holy City to survive.

Uri and I decided to go to Jaffa to take photographs and to look around. Comparative peace reigned there. Etzel and the Haganah were holding their lines and British troops had moved in between the Jews and the Arabs and had taken up positions to keep the peace.

Uri and I never got very far. The Etzel were most unco-operative and refused to allow us to take photographs. The Haganah were friendlier and allowed us to move around. We were permitted to take snapshots of certain areas. There was massive destruction everywhere and I was reminded of Cassino and other areas of war-torn Europe. Asking for permission to photograph the Jews facing the British and also the British, if possible, we were told that this would have to be obtained from headquarters whence we were escorted. The H.Q. was ideally camouflaged in a little house that appeared completely domesticated and unmilitary, with washing on the line and a pram on the porch. We were refused our request.

A day or two after that Jaffa surrendered to the Jews.

The hospitality of some Tel Aviv inhabitants for the Anglo-Saxons knew no bounds. Each night that we were in the city parties were arranged for us. One I remember as being particularly lavish. It was in a private flat and there was caviar and whisky and several other kinds of liquor. The women were fashionably and smartly dressed and were beautiful. Their husbands, for most of them were married, engaged us in conversation on a variety of topics. All expressed confidence as to the outcome of the hostilities and forecast a great future for the new little state.

Jack and Uri and I made the most of our last few days perhaps for some time, in a city. Here was a little opportunity for sleep and we soon acquired our favourite haunts. Life was gay in Tel Aviv and expensive, but we had some money and did not mind.

One little place recently opened attracted us especially. It was a tiny bar-café holding about fifty people in the basement of an hotel. A man played the piano and a girl, who was not beautiful and didn’t really have a good voice, sang. The warmth of her personality communicated itself however, and the song she sang were moving and inspiring. They were about the Haganah and the Palmach; the permanent, mobile force of the Haganah and regarded as the elite of the army. And every night the man at the piano played a new song which as a rule he had composed himself, and drawn by the girl, the audience was soon joining in like one, happy family. The exploits of the army and its advances were lauded. One new song was about berets and caps. It mentioned that the Haganah and always gone into battle with its men wearing a motley collection of head-gear or nothing on the head at all. Now things would change and there would be hats. Perhaps not a great song, but the audience made it so.

Some Palmach commandos used to come there prior to raids or attacks. Perhaps for some of them this was their last night of life. Such thoughts made the songs the more nostalgic. They and we became firm friends. Our only arguments used to be who should be privileged to pay for the drinks. Everyone claimed the privilege.

It is a pity that not many people came to know this little café for the hotel became the air-force H.Q. and the café was closed.

Each morning, when we reluctantly left there at closing time, we adjourned to another café in Tel Aviv which is open almost right through the night and where the artists, and writers and poets and bohemians congregate. In actual fact, in the early hours of the morning, everyone gathers there who wishes to eat or drink for it is the only café that is open. There we met the men and the women who were really doing the work. They came to drink a cup of coffee before going on or after coming off duty. Tel Aviv was forever alert. One never knew what was likely to occur. Puzzling things happened such as the sudden return of some of the evacuated British troops to Palestine early in May.

One day I was at the sea-front in Tel Aviv, drinking tea at a promenade café, when I noticed everyone looking out to sea.

The objects of attention were a British destroyer and an air-craft carrier steaming in a straight line through the ships lying at anchor outside Tel Aviv port. People wondered what their aim was. Nothing happened. The people had feared lest the ships were up to some mischief. You can never tell, with the British, they said. Few people regarded them as neutral and most were bitter towards their policy, although not always towards their people. Time would show, they said. Now they were waiting for them to get out.

They were not keeping order as they were supposed to do nor were they allowing the Jews to keep order or even to defend themselves. Kfar Etzion was a case in point. So too was besieged Jerusalem.

The great day for which the Jews had waited for two thousand years was drawing nearer. What would world reaction be? Speculation was rife. How would the big powers react? Would the U.S.A. lift the arms embargo? Many people thought that they would and that American arms would pour into the country. They were to be proved wrong. It was to be a hard struggle. I think even the local inhabitants must have been shocked when our army officially came out into the open and the paucity of heavy arms became apparent. Many never knew the true facts until victory had already been achieved.

Jack and Uri and I had had our “fling.” On Friday, May, 14th, we left for the settlement on the frontier.

Chapter 4 - A war commences

May 14th, 1948 was a significant day for Palestine - the end of the British Mandate and the birth of a new state. There was a feeling of tension and pregnancy in the air, an expectation of a violent and fierce travail. The central “Egged” bus terminus in Tel Aviv was a hive of activity. Passengers jostled for accommodation on vehicles leaving for all corners of the little country. Roads safe that day might be unsafe and impassable in days to come. Bronzed and healthy in simple khaki and blue garments, bare armed and bare legged, the majority of the intending travellers were settlers returning to their scattered strongholds of agricultural settlements. There with their comrades they would take up scanty arms and resist the invading Arab armies. And in the excitement and rush and hurry none foresaw that in four days time Egyptian ‘planes would bomb this very terminus and kill forty-one and injure many more.

Our bus was crowded, but the occupants were pleasant and of good cheer. Most were reading newspapers, oblivious to the passing countryside which they knew so well. Not so Jack, Uri and I. We viewed the green Sharon and the settlements set like jewels in a lush soil. The serenity seemed to denounce the possibility of bloodshed to come. But there were soldiers on the road and men who looked like soldiers. It was difficult to tell who was an army man and who was not, for in summer many people in Palestine wear khaki, and the uniform of the Jewish forces was plain, unadorned khaki free from trappings of badges, epaulettes or other insignia. Most of the soldiers were British hurrying to the ports. They were still manning all the military points and would still be masters that day. Tank carriers rumbled along the road and equipment passed in steady streams. They were not ours.

At Affula, where the proposed Jewish state was to join the proposed Arab state we changed buses. Detours were the order of the day. Arabs were here, there and everywhere. Tiberias was reached by a round-about route. This city had been captured by the Jews on April 18th and bore heavy scars of the fighting. The terrain further north was more dangerous and for security reasons we all transferred to an armoured bus. The road to Rosh Pinah, key town of the Upper Galilee, lay through the hills and past the blue waters of the Sea of Galilee. Our first view was through the slits of the armour-plating but later the doors were opened and the jovial driver gave a running commentary of the history and scenes that lay before us.

Rosh Pinah was like an armed camp and all Jewish. Not Britisher in sight. Here the Jews were masters of their own fight and fate.

Trucks were coming and going and a big convoy was forming. Our armoured bus joined the line. Rumours were ten a penny in Rosh Pinah.

On the morrow, they said, fighter ‘planes were due on the nearby airstrip. All had been arranged. Those concerned had been briefed. Each man had his own idea of where the planes were coming from. Unfortunately, as too often happened, this was mere wishful thinking as the morrow and following days proved. Rosh Pinah was to see many an Arab ‘plane and suffer many an air-raid before they were to welcome Jewish ‘planes.

It is good to live in hope provided the truth and the reality do not enervate and the local people were too strong and too obstinate to be perturbed when their dreams proved pipe dreams.

The convoy was led by armoured cars. From Rosh Pinah northwards Palestine is a narrow strip of valley land sided by hills and mountains of Syria and the Lebanon until the strip widens into the boarder fertile valley of the Northern Galilee. And atop one of these hills, in Palestine but on the border, the British had evacuated a strong, fortress-like police-station and allowed the Arabs to walk in. From Nebi Yusha, as it was called, the Arabs sniped at traffic in the valley. We slammed our doors and hurriedly closed our shutters. The pitter pat of bullets on the steel seemed futile and wasted. So this was the beginning for some of us. A harmless blooding. The bus suddenly stopped at a little building. The driver hastily opened the door facing away from Nebi Yusha and three men clambered inside, quickly but calmly. They lit cigarettes and gossiped on trite matters after a cursory reference to the shooting. They were members of Kfar Giladi, one of the largest and oldest communal settlements in the Galilee. Fish ponds belonging to Kfar Giladi lay directly below the police-station and these men had been working there. Life had to continue as normal - if possible. Food had to be produced.

Fires were burning in the distance and there was the clatter of small arms and of a skirmish. An Arab village was in the process of being captured by the Haganah. It was almost over. The inhabitants had menaced traffic and attacked the Jews. Theirs was the retribution. Our bus passed on as if nothing was happening. We waved to the soldiers and left them behind.

Mayan Baruch, our destination, was a newly established settlement containing about ninety souls, men, women and even a few children. The settlers had come from South Africa, America and Palestine and a large number were ex-servicemen of the last war, a comforting thought on May 14th.

Jack, Uri and I arrived in time for a practice alarm and a dress rehearsal. The strategy in the Galilee was simple and dictated by the circumstances, of which a dire shortage of arms was the most claimant. Each settlement in the valley, and there were several, was expected to defend itself until the surrounding settlements could come to its aid. Dan, Kfar Szold and other settlements near Mayan Baruch had already been attacked by large numbers of Arabs and had beaten back the attackers. But this time there would be organised armies of states on the march and not irregular groups or single army units. Communication was maintained between the settlements by radio, heliograph, lamps and flares.

The practice alarm and briefing showed the situation in its stark reality. According to accepted military calculations and handbooks little resistance could be offered. There was a pitiful lack of arms and ammunition stocks consisting of about twenty-five weapons and comprising one, old two-inch mortar with a few shells; one “Chateau” light machine-gun with several hundred rounds and twenty or so smaller arms of diverse makes and age. The locally made sten-gun with an effective range of not more than fifty yards, vied for pride of place with a tommy-gun, an old shot-gun normally used for hunting buck, and French, German, English and Czech rifles. Each weapon had its idiosyncrasies. A ukase was issued by Josef, the military commander, that ammunition was to be most sparingly used, for one never knew where the next lot was to come from.

The settlement had been well prepared for attacks from the ground and from the air. Bunkers and shelters enabled the whole community to go underground and a little sick-bay had been prepared in a shelter. The perimeter of the “meshek” (centre of the settlement comprising the buildings) was surrounded with several layers of barbed and concertina wire and some (but not sufficient) mines had been laid.

Shooting and observation positions ringed the camp and these dug-outs were linked to one another and to the dwelling houses by wide communication-trenches and by telephone.

The vegetable gardeners had viewed the defence preparations with some misgivings for the plants had of necessity to be up-rooted to make way for trenches and dug-outs. Ingenuity played no small part in the defence arrangements due note being taken of Arab psychology and superstition. One thousand crackers, which go off when tramped upon were strewn around to frighten marauding Arabs, and plans were devised for dummy dug-outs and phosphorescent and frightening figures.

In the midst of the urgent preparations a party was held, attended by those not manning the dugouts. The Jewish State had been proclaimed by the Provisional Council of the Government in Tel Aviv. A two thousand year old dream had come true. Nothing valuable is easily obtained. We were on guard and alert. Awaiting the attack. Few slept that night. The Arabs had three ended to swarm their armies across the borders of the new state and drive the Jews into the sea.

The sound of the alarm sent everyone dashing to their action-posts. The metallic clang of the gong cut the tension cleanly and came as a relief to some. What menaced in the darkness? The word raced around: “Relax. It was a false alarm. The gong has been struck accidentally”.  Once more to wait with fleeting thoughts of the uniqueness and greatness of the occasion. A Jewish state, Jewry in the diaspora rejoicing, Jewry in the new state, happy, alert and ready. Thousands of thoughts and knowing that others were thinking like you in the darkness, on watch, peering into the night, confident of the future yet unknowing of it. And Arabs were wakeful too and at U.N.O. the world was far removed and treating the matter as one of politics and diplomacy. Would Truman lift the embargo? We had to have arms.

The night passed in peace. The morning brought a flurry. The going booming a warning and a dash to the shelters and posts. The sound of shots, theirs and ours. It was brief and transitory. Some passing Arabs fired at the settlement and made off when we replied. Brief interlude. Uneventful really.

No invasion of Arabs that day but the contrary. Streams of them through the valley, northwards to Syria and the Lebanon. Moving like ants, trotting and jumping and walking. Galilean Arab villages fall to the Jews. The inhabitants flee although they are asked to stay. We watch them going and do not fire or molest them. They have chosen. Some remain behind. They wish to be friends. They are welcome.

From Nebi Yusha they still attack Jewish traffic. Our forces try to capture this fortress. It is almost impossible. We have nothing with which to pierce its massive walls. It is difficult to approach without being seen. The first attacks are in vain. Finally courage prevails. Nebi Yusha falls but more than twenty brave youngsters from the Haganah lose their lives outside its wall. Soon the whole of Northern Galilee is in the Jewish hands. Our forces are few but a brilliant strategy is employed. A place is captured and seven or eight men left to hold it. This the enemy do not realise. Each night the same indomitable youngsters go in to the attack. The Arabs do not know that all the attacks launched at widely scattered place are undertaken by the same men, who move rapidly because they are few and must give the appearance of many. The enemy overestimate Jewish strength.

The Arabs never fight at night if they can avoid it. We take advantage of this. The hours of night enable us to prepare, to anticipate and to attack. The Jews, coming from the settlements know their Galilee, are trained in night fighting. The foe are surprised and bewildered in the darkness.

We are not strong in equipment or in numbers in the beginning. And we offer thanks that we are fighting the Arabs and not a modern European army for might, if overwhelming, can vanquish belief and bravery. We make mistakes too and have to learn by bitter experiences but we improvise and are canny in war and hold our own. And the Lebanese army is quiet and the Syrian army is occupied in the Jordan valley where the gallant settlement Dagania has beaten it back with the help of artillery. If the armies of Lebanon and Syria had attacked in the Galilee they would have outnumbered the Jews many times. But they delayed and we took the offensive, despite our paucity of arms. A few hundred men moving and mobile and appearing many.

It warms the heart to hear that there is some Jewish artillery on other fronts in Palestine because there is none here. We watch the Arab guns shelling the settlements in the valley. Their flashes are visible, one can find their location but we have nothing with which to reply.

There is a frustrating feeling of ballistic impotence as we see their shells burst and damage and we can do nothing but watch. Dan has a bad time but the settlers have dug in and casualties are surprisingly few.

It is eerie and strange being in a dugout in the evenings. In the day we are not continually in the dugouts since we can see from the high watch-tower and have ample warning of impending attacks.

At night it is different. Vision is limited. A stealthy foe will be right on one before one can see him. I like the shot-gun at night. Its range is short but its shot will spray the darkness. All the dugouts are usually manned, two people in each, changing around, one on watch and one resting. Women play their share too. They have learned how to shoot. If possible they are not given dangerous tasks but we are few and have no choice. It is quiet and still in the Galilee in summer. The nights are clear and warm and the mosquitoes are annoying. Glow-worms carve dashes of light and only the tinkle of the phone from the command-post and the friendly: “Anything to report?” disturbs the immediate silence. But in the distance there is noise and colour and one interprets its significance.

The brightly coloured lights of tracers and flares. The flashes of light from guns and the dashes of red and orange as shells explode. That’s a battle. One side is attacking. People are grappling for their lives. And one peers into the darkness more determinedly lest the same colour and meaning be due to flare up here. The howls in the night are the jackals. Hundreds of them and the howls are taken up and form a circle which surrounds one. The first night I heard the cacophony of jackal sounds I thought it might be the Arabs shouting their war cries.

There are lights in the valley. Transport from the South. What have they brought? Oh, if only arms, heavier stuff. At every light one hopes and at every daybreak one is disillusioned. Nothing new. And one knows that to-day when the ‘planes come one will still have no anti-aircraft weapon to drive them off with nor will there be such a weapon anywhere in the valley. So the ‘planes come and you don’t even look to see if they are yours for you know they are not. And your “Chateau” opens up, single shots at the time, purposeless and useless, but you cannot do otherwise for rounds are scarce. From the valley pinpricks of missiles come from the light weapons of your neighbours. Futile. The ‘planes are over often and you forget to take cover unless they fly menacingly near or dive. You have work to do. These planes have no consideration. They come when you are naked under the shower and your friend on the watch-tower bangs the “take cover” and you have to dash to a slit-trench. Fortunately the ‘planes don’t pay much attention to the settlement. To them its an insignificant blob on the landscape. But they dive-bomb the roads and you worry for the travellers. When will our planes be overhead ?

Then the excitement that morning, when ‘planes were in the sky, theirs, and an unfamiliar sound was heard from Kfar Giladi and the pilots were more cautious. The sound of the rattle. Not one little rattle but many. A great day for the Galilee. Kfar Giladi had a Hotchkiss, not very good as an anti-aircraft gun, it’s true, but at least it kept the planes high and, above all, it indicated progress and a promise of things to come.

The Jews often neglected to take the most elementary safety pre-cautions against air-raids. A hearty contempt for the Arab’s efficiency and military skill made them fail to take cover. “An Arab could never bomb accurately”, they would say. Tel Aviv learnt its lesson after the raid on the Egged station and thenceforth all the bus termini were scattered. Kfar Giladi also learnt its lesson the hard way. Once I was in hospital there and it was rather awkward for patients to continually hop in and out of slit trenches. Bitter experience in Italy during the Second World War had taught me to take cover whenever possible while ‘planes were up to dirty work. I had long arguments with a young patient in the bed next to mine on the question. He had marked contempt for Arab marksmanship. Some time after that my point was proved. Kfar Giladi was bombed. A bomb fell right next to a slit-trench and no-one there in was hurt. Two people, however, who had thrown discretion to the winds, and preferred to watch the ‘plane did not take cover and were killed outright.

Despite the war, life on the settlements continued its normal tenor as far as possible. Food had to be produced and such a labour as could be spared from war work was turned to agriculture. Lengthy discussions ensued on the allocation of labour and the priority of work. Some considered the planting of peas more important than the laying of a mine-field and Jack, who knew something about laying mines and asked for assistance, was unable to get sufficient help. Meanwhile the peas were planted. Ploughing and preparing the fields received a high priority and involved a great deal of work since all the abandoned Arab lands had to be tended. The ploughman was always given an armed escort whose duties were twofold. He was to protect the ploughman from any hostile Arabs and was to signal the presence of ‘planes. The tractor, which drew the plough, made such a noise that the driver was unable to hear approaching ‘planes.

In all the fields, any distance from the Meshek, workers had to be protected. On certain routes too an escort was provided drivers.

Most of the Arab villages were abandoned and yielded no great treasures. In the villages surrounding Mayan Baruch articles stolen from the settlement in the past were recovered Some of the friendly Arabs who had remained were armed by the Jews, despite our own meagre armaments. They required these in order to protect themselves from reprisals by hostile Arabs. The Galilee and very few Arabs left but every night there was a movement back into Palestine. Arab who had fled to the Lebanon and Syria were smuggling themselves back, regretting their acceptance of the advice of their leaders and hoping for the better conditions in Israel. They had realised that the Jews were not so bad after all and were envious of the condition of the Arabs who had remained.

The water for the settlement was pumped from some distance away and every few days an expedition had to be made to the pumping-house.

It was in the nature of a patrol. The group split into three. One lot went to the pump and the other two groups took up flanking positions to protect the pumping group and to provide covering fire if necessary.

The settlement might have been isolated geographically, but by means of wireless kept in touch with the outside world. All listened to news services regularly and newspapers provided contact when they arrived. Thus we were aware of the magnificent feats of the Haganah in other parts of Palestine. They had held the Arab Legion and had stopped the Egyptians. The Syrians had been thrown back in the Jordan valley. Jerusalem was still cut off and supplies were running low but the defenders had extended the areas in their possession although they had been forced to evacuate the Old City. In many areas of Palestine the Jews were taking the offensive and the Jewish air-force had bombed Amman, the capital of Transjordan.

In the political sphere Israel, as the new state was called, had made notable advances being recognised by the U.S.A., the U.S.S.R. and other important states. And U.N.O. was trying to stop the fighting. Sanctions, truces, embargoes were discussed. Count Bernadotte was nominated as mediator in the dispute.

Gradually too the Haganah was becoming a fully fledged army. Mobilisation was more comprehensive and efficient and the government issued a law providing for the establishment of the Israeli Defence Army.

Before our month of “probation” was completed, Jack, Uri and I, asked to join a regular army unit. Things were comparatively quiet in the Galilee and we felt that our specialised military experiences could be used more profitably elsewhere. Mayan Baruch seemed in no danger and reinforcements had arrived from Tel Aviv in the form of young Tel Avivians. The armoury was also better stocked now. Our demands met with considerable opposition, raised important issues and were heatedly discussed by opposing sides. The principle was raised whether a settlement, on the border, as it was, should encourage or even allow its members to join the army. Volunteering for the army was opposed by one group. They said that the army had already taken several of their members and would probably take more. The settlement had to think of itself first. Our view was different. We claimed that the military situation should be viewed as a whole. No settlement could judge whom the army did or did not need. If they did not need us in Tel Aviv we would come back but the central manpower body should judge. On the settlement one man who could use a rifle was as good as another man who could use a rifle.

In the army, however, specialists were needed because the local inhabitants had not had much experience in heavier weapons. The majority opinion seemed to support us but the committee did not. In the midst of the discussions the turn of events solved the conflict.

The Arabs grew wise and called our bluff. Realising, at long last, the small numbers of our forces, they launched a two pronged attack trying to cut off the Galilee from the rest of Palestine. Initially they were successful. They attacked Mishmar Hayarden in the East, captured Malkiya in the West and advanced on Rosh Pinah. Trained men were collected from every settlement to meet this new threat. Mayan Baruch had to provide three men and Jack, Uri and I volunteered to go and were now allowed to do so. We left in a hurry and rushed to Rosh Pinah to find the village in an uproar.

It was recovering from a panic. A few hours before Arabs had been seen advancing near the town and all had been thought lost. The sentry and given the alarm and there had been confusion until it was recognised that the Arabs were the band of Druses who were fighting on the side of the Jews. But the situation was still critical. A motley collection of individuals were defending the Galilee. In those days, while the army was as yet unorganised, manpower was raised by conscripting people in the cities for two weeks service and sending them to areas where they were needed. Those in Rosh Pinah came from Haifa. The older ones were kept in the camps and did the base duties, freeing the younger ones for combatant service. Everything was free and easy and friendly. There was no army yet and no code of discipline.

Yet each man did what he was told and few shirked their duties. No time existed for training. You were asked if you could handle a rifle and if you replied in the affirmative you were suitable for combat and might find yourself in action in the near or immediate future.

The most colourful of the troops were the Druses, dressed in their flowing robes and wearing keffiyehs. They were good and faithful soldiers and we were happy to have them with us.

At Rosh Pinah Jack was separated from Uri and me. He became a demolitions and “saboteur” man. Subsequently he was taken prisoner-of-war in the Negev and for a long time we did not see each other again. He was one of the finest soldiers I have ever met and a good friend. Uri and I, being Anglo-Saxons, were somewhat of a novelty in the town and the objects of many questions and remarks. We had a fine lot of comrades and experienced the warmest friendship on all sides. Our job was to wait, as reserves of infantry, until our action would be required. The hours of waiting were enlivened by enemy air-raids. That night we obtained little sleep.

The next day the situation had improved. The Syrians and Lebanese had been held.

Uri and I met our first artillery officer in Israel but look as we might we could see no guns. He was young and dashing and tired and spoke a perfect English. When he heard that we had service in the Artillery in the South African army he almost threw his arms around us. He was prepared to take us with him immediately and we were most willing to follow. His guns were French, however, and calibrated in mills whereas we were accustomed to the British system of degrees.

He could, he said, teach us the mills system in a short time but he was very busy and would be unable to spare the opportunity. So he advised us to go to the Artillery training camp, near Tel Aviv, for a few days.

An urgent authorisation was granted for our trip and we left for the camp with the men of an artillery troop who had lost their heavy mortars in action and were returning to be re-equipped, if possible. The loss of the “guns” had been  a tragic blow, but when tanks and guns and planes were thrown against the Jews at Malkiya the weight of the enemy armour had proved too much. After a gallant but losing struggle the Jews had been forced to evacuate.

These chaps had received their artillery pieces in the morning, had trained the same afternoon and had gone into action that very night. And most of the Jewish “artillery” considered of heavy mortars, some of local manufacture, not too accurate, and not too reliable.

It was a tiring trip. The driver was always losing his way. It was dark and road-blocks, demolitions and deviations obstructed progress. Once we almost went into the Arab lines. No one seemed to know our location so we nosed the truck through the night and manned our stens and rifles - in case. Thankfully we reached a Jewish kibbutz and snatched a few hours of sleep, before continuing on our way to the artillery camp where we arrived in time for an air-raid. Those ‘planes seemed to follow one everywhere.