Monday, August 04, 2008

Tuesday 20th February 1940

Every hour I was awakened to change the sentries. Just a few minutes dear, dear sleep (as it seemed) and then a hand on my shoulder and a dim figure, “It’s time, Steve!” It was Willoughby the last time. “Four o’clock, Steve!” I started up in my deckchair (I’d not troubled to make a bed) and said, “are we there?” “We’re moving very slowly” he answered excitedly, “And there are lights ahead!” I went on the deck outside. Yes, there were the lights of a town apparently sloping across a hill and the intermittent flash of a lighthouse.

It was quite light when we glided alongside the quay at Haifa (Palestine!) and soon afterwards disembarked. “This is rather thrilling isn’t it?” I said to a man beside me. “Yes! A real foreign, Eastern look about the place!”

The train – hardly up to English standards of excellence! – and a few hours journey through a strangely unfamiliar land of queerly clad Arabs, orange groves, sand and grassy hills and rolling plains; camels and donkeys. Sunshine. Soldiers at the stations through which we passed, clad in tropical drill and armed to the teeth.

In dust and sunshine we detrained (wearing greatcoats etc) at a queerly named station – was it Rehovat or something? – in south west Palestine. Journey by bus to Gedera, a grimly new camp, chiefly of tents, on a muddy slope of hills. Dried, parched mud of course. At first I was bunged into a tent (they are roomy, square Indian tents) with seven gunners but later Stan Ling and I did some wangling and eventually got into a tent run by Sid Pond. They were all signallers here; beside the three snakes there were Gibbon, Naden, Bob Andrews, Doug Stiles, Gilbert and Cole.

We waited an interminable time for a meal. There were no drinking water or washing facilities. Letters home had to have postage stamps on the envelopes but no postage stamps were available. The canteen had not been opened. There tent shops kept by Hebrews and Arabs but only Palestine money (mils and piastre, 10 mils = 1 piastre = 2 1/2d) was accepted and we could not obtain any Palestine money.

“This is the sort of place” said Stan gloomily, “where we shall become properly browned-off”.

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