Sunday, August 24, 2008

Wednesday 26th June 1940

We've been told that we are to be fully equipped now. Going on real active service soon, I reckon. Egypt? Syria?

The French accepted the Italian as well as the German armistice terms, of course. Fighting ceased yesterday morning, I believe. Half France to be occupied until the end of the war with Britain. French air force and navy to be handed over. Army to be disbanded... all equipment to be given up, French colonies and mandated territories to cease hostilities (What of our northern neighbour, French Syria?) Jibuti to be handed over to the Italians. (Jibuti, our only exit by sea. The mail ship comes that way, through the Red Sea). Today there was news of another air raid on England. Little damage and few people killed, adds the statement.

Moving from here soon, we reckon. (How I'll miss these lovely billets!) Five of us who were not on duty climbed another slope of Jebel ar Tur this afternoon; might be our last chance. Ling, Hadlow and I climbed the rocks, Chenery and Pond walked up a long sloping gully, about a quarter mile to our left. Some distance from the top we at last sighted the summit – the ruins of an old tower making the general scene rather like those pictures in a novel about a trip to the moon or Mars. At the same time we sighted Pond and Chenery toiling upwards and much nearer to the top than us.
“Come on!” Ling said, “Let's get there first!” With my B5 lungs I had misgivings but tried to keep up with the other two.

Gradually I found myself drawing ahead though. We finished the last furlong at a half trot; I forced my way through the last piles of rough stones, reached the tower and to my joy found I was first by about 20 yards. It was a victory not over my companions but over B5! I can''t be so unfit. Not yet an invalid! Pond and Chenery looked quite picturesque, too. When I looked around, they were coming up through the ruins of an old temple, one carrying the rifle, both looking very business like.
We climbed up to the roof of the tower – probably a sheik's tomb – by means of stone
steps inside. Great thick walls! In one of the upper rooms Ling, Hadlow and I scrawled our names on the walls with bits of charcoal. (I also wrote up, “Eileen Simmons, Southwell, England” All very childish, but it might be our last outing!)

Pond dozed on the roof, in the sunshine. Chenery disappeared somewhere. Having exhausted our imagination below, Ling and I went onto the roof. “Where's Jack?” I asked the recumbent Pond. “Don't know,” said he sleepily. “Here I am!' said a voice – and Jack's head suddenly appeared above the parapet! He had climbed some 25 feet, up sheer wall! It shook me!

Stanley posed us for a group photograph in various attitudes on some stone blocks and broken columns in some excavated ruins at the base of the tower. It took about ten minutes to get us settled – and then Stan accidently released the shutter whilst standing in front of the lens, thus buggering up the snap!

Eventually we came down the steep eastern slope above Jacob's Well. The others got out of sight ahead when Jack and I stopped to climb some cliffs. Then – a slight accident! - I looked around just as Jack, far below, stumbled and fell forward with a crash! I turned hastily downwards; Jack rolled over, looked up at me, then lay still! Shaken, I scurried towards him and fell once myself. He had only grazed his arms and knees. “Sorry for the drama,” he said, “Couldn't raise energy to move. Winded”. The rifle “furniture” around the breech was smashed; it looked a nasty mess. The metal parts were all OK, Jack's first action was to work the bolt and squint along the barrel.

We wandered disconsolately downhill and eventually rejoined les autres. When we reached Nablus Fort, Jack and I went along to the MI room whilst the rest went back to billets. Whilst Jack's cuts were being dressed I scrounged two half-mugs of well stewed tea from the cookhouse. It was nectar! Khamsin weather today.

Afterwards we had supper in the Fort NAAFI and drank two pints of tea each, whilst we gloomily read from duplicate copies of “Palestine Post” Things don't seem too good, be buggered if they do.


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