Wednesday, 26 February 2014

My version of events... The Belch

I've mentioned that Dad used to tell us stories of his time in Palestine.  Some of them seem to have become important to him only after the event as he has not recorded any details of them.  This is my interpretation of one of those stories.  I would place it fairly early in Dad's time in Palestine; maybe in Jenin. 


Ron –
Dad –
In the Palestine Police,
1947 and 1948 –
Two years
National Service.
 
Here he is at 19, holding his rifle,
Smiling at the adventure of it.
A bold, brave boy
Leaning in the midday sun.

Today...
tonight...
He has guard duty –
The prison, in the police station.

He must guard a notorious Arab agitator –
Deemed deadly dangerous –
Seems he has a bloody past
And bloodier intentions –
So they’ve locked him up.

Ron must patrol past his cell
Every hour –
Why?
Why! to check he’s still in there, of course.
Yes, sergeant.

So Ron checks –
Every hour –
On the hour –
And every time –
He checks –
He’s still there –
Huddled, meditating,
In his dark corner...

Pietro Sarubbi
Barabbas in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ
He’s a burly man,
A Barabbas,
With bad teeth I imagine,
A hefty beard and black dissecting eyes –
Locked up in his passionate thirties
For fighting the injustice he feels.

Ron is here,
A lad,
Nineteen,
Poking his shiny face up against the barred door
Checking
Always checking…

11 o’clock
Ron’s tired.
It’s dark and cold
He puts his face up to the bars.
This time,
This time in the gloomy cell
He can see…
He can make out…
What?!
Where is he?
He leans his rifle against the wall
And cups his eyes with his hands
Trying to gather as much light through the bars
Digging his way through to the dark corners
Searching for the shape of the man
Some variation in the degree of darkness
To hint that he is still there.

Panic

No, no don’t panic.

He must be in here somewhere

He can’t just disappear
Ron would have heard if there had been a break out.
A tunnel?
Don’t be daft.

The heart is beating
The sweat breaks out across the forehead
When do I tell?
When do I admit I’ve lost him?

Oh God!
God, godgodgodgodgod!

The chill metal of the bars
Burns his cheeks,
Presses up against his face.

And then,
Suddenly,
A face right up against his own
Looking deep into his eyes
Penetrating his pupils
The hot breath on his skin
The beard brushing his nose

And in that second
A belch,
Black and fragrant,
Olives and garlic,
A palpable puff of gastric gases
Invades Ron’s nostrils.

Ron recoils
And Barabbas
Smirks –

Pardon me, British – he lies

As he shuffles

Back into the dark corner.

And Ron swallows hard.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

22nd April, 1948 - Home at last...

Thursday, 22nd April, 1948
We were up early this morning to be ready by 8a.m. when we were to move from the ship.  In fact we were half an hour late leaving the ship for the ferry which took us all to the Customs Wharf.  Here after a long search I found my second case which had been put anywhere but on the row for baggage belonging to people whose surname began with “B”.  As soon as I found the case I grabbed one of the many customs officials and asked him to check my luggage.  He asked me if I had anything to declare.  I declared 300 cigs and some sweets, this satisfied him and I was able to go through without opening anything.  I got a taxi to the station where I found I had a little time to spare.  I found two other B/Cs who were travelling on the same train as I so we put our baggage together and got a porter to put it in a compartment for us while we went to get a little refreshment.  The train left Lime Street Station at 10.40 and we were soon speeding along through the green fields and small towns of brick houses we had all missed so much.  We changed trains at Crewe and again all got into the same compartment with two Welsh men.  We timed ourselves through the Severn Tunnel, the first time I had been through it. (7 mins)  Arriving at Newton just before 9p.m.  I took a taxi home where I took the folks partly by surprise as they did not expect me until later.






This is the final entry Ron made in his diary.  He was discharged from the Service receiving his Certificate of Discharge in October 1949 having...

"Carried out his duties in a very satisfactory manner."











Afterword
Thank you for taking the time to share Ron's story with me.   




For me it has been both a pleasure and a sadness to "hear" my father's voice again - albeit as written words. 
I see how my handwriting has over the years come to resemble his.
I recognise his turn of phrase, his curiosity and his occasional pomposity.   As a youth I was both engaged and embarrassed by his desire to get involved with the world around him.  My father presented me with opportunities in which I sometimes blossomed and which, at other times, I was too "shy" to take.

A favourite expression of his in later life, if we were faced with a slightly challenging social situation was "Throw a bridge!"  - open the conversation; make the effort to connect with the stranger; be interested in people and maybe they will respond positively to you; be open to new experiences and face what life places before you.

I recognise this as the spirit that had driven Ron to serve in Palestine - the Holy Land, a land of intrigue and exoticism, a mixture of the Biblical and the political, fascinating to a young, open and impressionable mind.

Throughout his life, Dad's enthusiasm for his experiences in Palestine never left him.  For us children the stories he told of those times were fascinating - some humorous, some curious, some horrific - but the continuing political situation flummoxed him - he remained uncertain how the situation could ever be resolved.


I had no great overarching purpose when I decided to present Dad's diaries to a wider audience.  They are simply the impressions of a young, uncomplicated man responding to a complicated situation.  But they are a human account by a person I love and for me that is enough.  As a contribution to the historical picture of the period they represent a tiny, largely insignificant part.  Dad was just a 19 year-old doing a job - he wasn't there to question the decisions made in distant government offices. 

But if Dad's recorded experiences show anything at all it is that the situation was then and continues to be hugely complex.  Maybe part of the difficulty of resolving the political situation is that opposing factions may see things in rather more black and white terms.  If more emphasis can be placed on the human within the political; and if an attitude of compassion be adopted, then perhaps more progress could be made.

I am supremely conscious of my ignorance of the complexities of the Palestine/Israel conflict - although I do have a slightly clearer understanding now than I had at the beginning of this undertaking.  In my reading and research I have come to appreciate the bungling and ineffectual part the British government played.  The British seemed to regard Palestine as something of a poison chalice.  I recognise the passion felt by the Jewish people in seeking a homeland especially after the atrocities of the Second World War.  I also understand the outrage of the Palestinians whose homeland has been "occupied".  I have been shocked and dismayed by the continuing behaviour of the Israeli government in their treatment of the original inhabitants of the land.  The illegal settling of large areas of Palestinian land, the literal eradication of villages, of peoples homes, the denial of human rights - these are tactics that cannot be acceptable in a modern democracy regardless of the political situation or historical context.


If you have any questions or comments I would love to hear from you.




 

Friday, 21 February 2014

20th & 21st April, 1948 - The final leg complete but a frustrating wait before disembarking...

Tuesday, 20th April, 1948
We are still moving North but no land has been sighted since the Bishop’s Rock Light House which we sighted with a fog belt inland behind it.  This afternoon we began to prepare for landing.  Library books were handed in and cases etc put ready for being taken off by crane if they are too heavy to carry.
The majority of us are going off in uniform as we do not want to get our civvies dirty in the expected scrabble and rush through the customs.
We were given a railway voucher today made out to our homes.









Wednesday, 21st April, 1948
When I woke this morning I found we were moving very slowly in a fog.  On enquiring I found out that we 
were approaching the coast of England and the mouth of the Mersey.  After breakfast we all crowded on deck hoping to sight England but all we saw were a few buoys which told us we were near the mouth.  We stopped once and it was given out that we could not dock tonight as there was no room for us on a wharf.  Later, so I learned, the ship was ordered to anchor in the harbour where we would be taken off by ferry.  This was done but as it was late only the compassionate leave and ordinary leave troops were allowed off.  Police and other troops were told that they would be taken off the ship tomorrow morning.

The tug men who were to operate the tugs to pull the ship to the wharf were on strike this was why we had to be taken off by ferry.

This evening officials came on board.  Posts & Telegrams accepted telegrams for despatch to our homes.  Railway people exchanged travel warrants for a ticket and times of our trains.  The Crown Agents gave us an advance of £10 and the address to which we should send our uniform.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

18th & 19th April, 1948 - Closer and closer... The Bay of Biscay and Finisterre while the nights are getting colder.


Sunday, 18th April, 1948
Now out in the Atlantic the sea though not rough is making the ship pitch and roll.  This has caused many people, especially those who embarked at Gib., to develop mal de mer.  Fortunately so far I have escaped this fate but my tummy warns me not to be too optimistic about crossing Biscay tomorrow.
The voyage is beginning to bore me now, everything which was new in the first few days has fallen into place to make a routine.  The mornings I find pass much more quickly than do the afternoons.

Reading is my main occupation interspersed with aimless gazing out over the wastes of water.  We are out of sight of land now and after Cape Finisterre at 5a.m. tomorrow morning I doubt if we shall see more main land before that of the U.K.




Monday, 19th April, 1948

My friend and I are still sleeping in hammocks on deck but we notice that the nights are becoming cooler as we approach England.
Every evening now we have a cinema show on deck but these have had to be begun later than they were when we left Palestine for it is still light at 8.30pm.
To get a reasonable seat at one of these shows one has to rush up to a preselected position as soon as dinner is over.
Several evenings the show has had to be put over in doubt for we sit expecting rain now we near England.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

16th & 17th April, 1948 - Ron's just watching the scenery go by...


Friday, 16th April, 1948
We are still following the coast; last evening we saw Algiers and other smaller Algerian towns on the coast.
During the night we must have altered course some degrees North for at 11a.m. we sighted the mountains of South Spain.  This coast line reminds me of Palestine, the coastal plain sweeping inland to the mountains.
The loudspeakers draw our attention to places of interest but most of them have names I find difficult to remember.
The cinema show last evening was completed without rain the first occasion I have known.
The sea although choppy this morning is again like a mill pond, the ripples are not breaking into the rougher white foam.  Porpoises have been leaping around us in shoals and we have seen a few fishing smacks whose occupants have waved to us.

My Pals & I stopped up this evening until we dropped anchor in Gibraltar Bay.  This was at 11.30pm so we viewed a brilliantly lighted scene topped by the darkened gloomy peak of the rock.
SS Samaria at Malta
source: http://www.merchantnavyofficers.com/cunard7.html





Saturday, 17th April, 1948
We were still in the bay of Gibraltar when I woke at 6a.m. this morning.  Looking out from my hammock across the deck & the bay I watched the sun rising slowly up the northern side of the rock.  This fortress is by no means picturesque viewed as we saw it.  Too many large buildings crowd the lower slopes and these were built for practical use not for decoration of the rock.
Memories of Port Said
At 11a.m. we set sail again on the last lap of the voyage.  With the troops taken on at Malta and now these at Gib the ship is becoming a little more crowded.  I cannot imagine what conditions were like on board the “Samaria” during the War when she carried as many as 5,600 troops.
The ‘bumboats’ which came out to us at Gib. are like all other ports who permit this pestering, even to the silks etc. that they not unsuccessfully sell.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

14th & 15th April, 1948 - Ron is enjoying the cruise but no luck on the Tote.

Wednesday, 14th April, 1948
We sailed from Malta at about 10pm after setting off and taking on hundreds of troops.  I should imagine the discipline is very strict on land for the naval launches & other crafts were all spick & span.




I think I must have slung my hammock on the wrong side of the ship last night for I woke during the night feeling a cold wind blowing.  This morning we pressed close by the North coast of Pantelleria Island.  I got out my binoculars and this showed me the details of this face of the island.  Extinct volcanoes domineered the picture, the sides sloping steeply down to the cliff faces.  These slopes are deeply terraced between the old volcanics lava courses.  Houses are scattered thickly on the lower slope but not by the sea.  A lighthouse on the cliffs and a castle on the summit of a hill stand out from the other simple houses.
We shall see quite a deal of land as we pursue our course just off the north coast of AfricaCape Bon was sighted at midday.  All the coastline seems to have been volcanic at some time and as a result is very barren looking.
This evening we assembled on deck for an open air cinema show.
The weather has been beautiful with no sign of rain but as soon as the show started so did the rain.




Thursday, 15th April, 1948
There was no land in view this morning but at midday it could be faintly seen through the misty low lying clouds.
There is a totalisation held on deck every morning to see who can judge the mileage covered in the last 24 hours.  I bought a shilling ticket this morning but was unlucky.  Judging from the map of our route and our average speed I should think we should arrive at Gibraltar tomorrow night.
This afternoon I spent reading with the usual break for tea and a bun at 3.30pm.  Yesterday we each received a bulk ration for 11/-.  This consisted of 300 cigarettes, a bar of chocolate, two rolls of sweets & six chocolate biscuits.  This was very cheap but I did not need so many cigarettes but had to have them to get the other articles.

Monday, 17 February 2014

12th & 13th April, 1948 - Settling to life on board - swinging hammocks on deck.

Monday, 12th April, 1948
We are now getting settled down to our temporary home.  The messing is good and the sleeping which we do in hammocks on deck, is passable.  These are the main things, for the others we manage.  Toilets if hurried are completed every morning early.
For recreation we can walk the decks or lie on them with a book or just lie talking.  Over the inter-com system we get musical programmes and the news and in the late evening some of the ships crew get out their instruments for a sing song.
The Police are wandering around trying to use all 2nd class facilities but so far I think the only ones who have escaped the Red Caps detection are those in civilian garb who use the 2nd class lounge.
The sea has been like a mill pond all day and this morning we saw an island off the coast of Crete.




Tuesday, 13th April, 1948
Every night now the population of deck sleepers increases.  The chaps are beginning to realise the advantages of sleeping up in the clean open air.
Recreation facilities are becoming routine.  For myself I read and talk with my immediate friends.  Over the loudspeakers we get a half hour of “swing” music in the morning followed by a “Quiz” and a half hour of light classical music in the evening.  Otherwise the loudspeaker shouts for certain people to report to other certain people.
In all, up to now the voyage has been a continuously pleasant relaxation.
Valletta Harbour, Malta, 1948
This evening while I was in the ships cinema the ship pulled in to Valetta Harbour.  After the cinema I walked the decks looking out upon the Harbour lights.  I wish I could have seen it by day for in the half light it was attractive to see.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

10th & 11th April, 1948 - Weapons returned in Haifa and Ron is impressed by S.S. Samaria.

Saturday, 10th April, 1948
We had to be up early this morning to complete all that had to be done and be ready for leaving at 8a.m.
A reduced convoy set off, for the heavy baggage
trucks had continued to Haifa on the 8th.

We had difficulty in finding a road to Haifa for the two main roads have been blown up in local Arab-Jewish tussles.  Eventually by going a long way out of the normal route and even in one place off the beaten track we did get through.

The Jews where they did not want to close the road near a settlement, “lumped” it so that vehicles could still use the road but were forced to travel at a very slow pace.

Initially a luxury cruise ship, Samaria carried
passengers around the world.  After serving as a
 troopship during the war, she later carried
immigrants to Canada
In Haifa we straightway handed in our rifles and ammunition which we were glad to lose, then we joined a huge queue to receive embarkation cards & mess deck places.
We collected our small luggage and boarded a landing barge which took us out to the 20,000 ton S.S.Samaria.




Sunday, 11th April, 1948
Last afternoon we left Haifa behind in a cloudy mist and turned away from Palestine wondering if it would be for ever.
The ship is much larger and better than the one I came out on.  We are sleeping in hammocks with our N.C.O.’s all on the same mess deck.  We dine with the military personnel in the sergeant’s mess.  The food is excellent, better than I have had for a long time.
Last night my friend and I slept on deck in our hammocks last night.  It rained during the night but we were comfortable in our cover.
This morning we were up by 5.30a.m. and spent the day walking the decks and reading a little.
The swell has been only very slight but already several of the passengers have been sick.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

8th & 9th April, 1948 - Homeward bound at last and Ron is twenty... but there's no beer in the bar.

Thursday, 8th April, 1948
This morning I was up at a quarter to six and after completing my toilet & breakfast packed the remainder of my kit into my issue kit bag.  We took our kit down to the transport yard where it was put onto a truck.  We formed up on parade outside the guard room where the roll was called and where some members of the parade were annoyed to see the Canteen manager and laundryman waiting with debt books poised for action.  Next we walked down to a nearby playing field where the convoy was to form  up.  The roll was again called and we piled into buses and trucks ready for the journey.
At different places in Jerusalem other trucks joined the convoy which looked terrific when we got out onto the long country roads.  Looking back I counted thirty vehicles.  Four bus loads of Police, two of married women and children several trucks of Police and the
A Jerusalem Convoy...
It's not their convoy but is from the period
rest baggage with armoured cars dispersed in the convoy.  Also there was a spare truck, a breakdown lorry and a private car containing a doctor.  In all the convoy was really well organised, which came as a surprise to most of us.
We left Jerusalem punctually at 8.45am and after a short stop in Nablus arrived at Jenin at 1.50pm.  In Jenin we again were surprised at the organisation awaiting us.  We got our kit, were told our huts and had a cold luncheon.  The I.G. was in camp as well.  The heat in the camp is terrific, almost like summer.  My friends and I went to the camp cinema this evening.



Friday, 9th April, 1948
I got up this morning of my 20th birthday at 7.45am after an excellent night’s sleep.  The atmosphere even so early in the day was heavy as in a Kamseen.
For breakfast we enjoyed a kipper a rare delicacy out here.  After breakfast I had a game of snooker and wrote home.
The ladies have been given exclusive use of all the best parts of the camp but we found the reading room unoccupied so established ourselves there.
I had a look around the old camp this afternoon; many changes have occurred here and over all is an air of neglect.  The insides of the huts need whitewashing and the gardens are covered in tall weeds.  Weeds are also breaking through the cement of the parade ground, a thing that would never have happened in the old days.
The canteen has no beer so farewell celebrations have been very quiet.

[Editor's Note:  The personal experiences recorded in Ron's diaries have formed the basis of this blog and I have largely ignored the ongoing deterioration in the political situation except where it directly impacted upon him.  However, as the British Palestine Police started their withdrawal the unrest between Jews and Arabs flared into full scale civil war which would dominate the next few years and indeed the ensuing decades.  At this time atrocities were committed on both sides and on this day the Jewish Haganah, Irgun and Lehi forces attacked the town of Deir Yassin.  Anticipating an easy victory the Jewish forces were initially repulsed and a bloody battle ensued.  The villagers were finally overcome and enraged Jewish guerillas rampaged through the town massacring men, women and children - anyone found alive - resulting in a death toll of between 110 and 140. The massacre at Deir Yassin is now regarded as a pivotal event in the political history of the region setting the scene for bloody conflict and the ongoing Palestinian refugee crisis.  For a full and harrowing account of the Deir Yassin massacre and its political implications follow this link




Friday, 14 February 2014

6th and 7th April, 1948 - The end of "statics" at the Palace; the end of Ron's Police career... and nearly the end of Ron!

Tuesday, 6th April, 1948
Back on duty at the Palace Hotel this morning at 6a.m.  A Sergeant was on with us three B/Cs.  The offices were open and being emptied of their contents all morning.  This block is expected to be closed in the next two days.  One B/C took up a position on a veranda while the other two searched people who came through the barrier leading to the heavily barbed wired off Hotel.  We relieve and are relieved by the “Arab National Guard.”
The Palace Hotel, c. 1930 - It later became the Waldorf
and is currently being rebuilt as the Waldorf Astoria
We took over guard from six of these and were relieved by one of their ranks armed with a Sten.

I thought I would have a good look at Jerusalem this afternoon so got out the binoculars and climbed up the tower.  The view in bright sunshine was beautiful but petered out on the mountains due to a haze rising from the valley.




Wednesday, 7th April, 1948
The last of my static duties in the Palestine Police was completed at 1pm on the Palace Hotel.  If there had been a few more B/Cs around I should have felt like firing a 21 gun salute or something.
This afternoon we loaded our cases which are not wanted on voyage onto lorries which will go to Scopus for the night. 
We have been told that we start out at 7.30 tomorrow morning so all that is left is last minute packing.

My room mates and I thought it fitting to have a farewell drink in the Canteen so we all went up to the canteen for a gold star beer each. Then after a long chat the type which always ensues on such occasions we retired for the night.

An incident happened at the Palace this morning which might have changed all my plans. The sergeant and I were waiting by a gate into the Jewish area to let the Jewish workers in.  These did not come but a burst of Bren fire from that area just passed over our heads and was obviously aimed at us.  I saw visions of my boat in glorious technicolour.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

4th & 5th April, 1948 - On duty at the Palace and kit checking and packing...

Sunday, 4th April, 1948

I was on duty at the Palace Hotel this morning from 6a.m. to 2p.m.
The “Palace” used to be a very large Hotel, one of the biggest in Jerusalem, but it has been taken over by the Government and used for many departments’ offices.
from Howard Mansfield's account of his time in Nablus
Outside is a demobilised “Pig”; our name for a peculiar type of armoured car.  In this we can take cover from flying bullets or, as we did this morning, from the wind and rain.  The offices were closed this morning so our tour of duty was very dull.  The Palace is beside the Mamilla Road Cemetery which used to be a favourite site for Jewish snipers but the army have moved into a building overlooking this and so of late the dead have been left in piece (sic).





Monday, 5th April, 1948
Those who are on the boat with me handed in all their issue kit, except that which they need on the voyage, to the stores this morning.  In the camp we were ready for the transferring of our kit by 8a.m.
Attached to the camp is one 3 ton truck and one 15cwt truck; as usual the 3 tonner was out of service so we had to use the 15cwt which made several journeys to the central stores.
There, much to our surprise we encountered no hitches.  We made a chain so that six of us could carry five boxes.  These we took up two flights of stairs and in turn had our kit checked.  I was found to be deficient of two pillow cases, theses were charged against me and the money will be deducted from my gratuities (4s).  After completing this kit hand in I made a purchase of a collection of photographs [1] which will make a nice souvenir of Palestine.  I then insured my kit with “Cook’s Agency.”
In the evening I went to the cinema to see “State Fair” a very good musical comedy film in technicolour.

[1] I remember seeing these when I was a boy but they seem to have been separated from the rest of Dad's photos... I'll keep looking!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

2nd and 3rd April, 1948 - Long awaited news leaves Ron strangely cold but doesn't stop him preparing!

Friday, 2nd April, 1948
This morning I went to work as usual and during the morning my work mate phoned up a friend of his at a nearby station to find out if he had any news of the boat list.
The answer was yes he had the list in front of him.  He read the list out over the phone and both my friend’s & my name was on it.  I could not believe it was true and could not wait to read our list in the office.  When I got back I found it to be true, myself and about 20 others from the section were going to sail on the “SAMARIA” on the 10th.
S.S.Samaria
source: silverhawkauthor.com - Harold A. Skaarup









When I grasped the situation I was peculiarly unexcited perhaps caused by the long wait and constant rumours.

                                  


Saturday, 3rd April, 1948

All of us going paraded at the guard room this morning for instructions.  We went to the “Records” branch and on to the Government Hospital where a form was filled in to say we were fit for travel to the U.K.
On the way back I called into Cook’s Travel Agency to get particulars for insuring kit.  I find that if my property is valued at £200 then I can insure it for 21 days at a premium of £1.30.

This afternoon I repacked all my kit and sorted out my issue kit for handing into stores on Monday.

We find our names on the duty list for next week.  This was annoying as we still have oddments to do and availables will have to fill in when we hand kit in.

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