Friday, August 22, 2008

Wednesday 5th and Thursday 6th June 1940

It didn't take us long to pack our kits for the move; then, a “steady old morning” for the advance party. Had plenty of time for a shower after breakfast and then an hour in the NAAFI where we heard the radio news. Silence from Italy, the usual gloomy news from France and Belgium. The OC delivered a brief lecture, saying that we should be in billets at our new station and should “enjoy many amenities” which did not exist at Nathanya. On the other hand, he wanted a good turn-out (“spit and polish!”) all the time, as we should be “under the critical eye of unfriendly hill Arabs” and also in close proximity to Brigade HQ. The length of our stay at Nablus depended perhaps upon the good show we put up etc. There would not be so many duties at Nablus and we should have much more leisure time, he said.

Left camp at 11:30a.m., stopped on the Tulkarim – Nablus road for lunch ( in a rocky hill pass) and reached Nablus at about 1:30p.m. What a change from the monotonous drab scenery we'd known! This was a fertile valley surrounded by rocky hills rising to about 2000 feet, I should imagine ( A spot of climbing in our spare time?) A pretty Arab town. HQ Troop was billeted in a large Arab house with an incredible number of rooms. Stone walls, balconies, mosaic tiled floors and all that. To our chagrin, Ron Dean and I learnt that we were absolutely in charge of this building for the time being and had to get it clean and to get it ready for tomorrows arrival of the main party. So we set squads of men splashing water about the place (there were few tools or implements) and with difficulty restrained them from selecting their own rooms and rushing in with their kits.
Subsequently, I was roundly reprimanded because they had not done enough work and thereafter had to harry them more than ever.

I was not sorry to be detailed as NCO i/c Guard. It was rather short notice and we did no cleaning. There are signs of this being a decent station. Billets, cleanliness and a roof over our heads after all the shit and petty discomforts of tent life. The scenery! The duties – obviously no fire picquet and apparently the guard will consist only of an NCO and six men as at Southwell.
No regimental work, for the time being, anyhow. The troop grouping – each troop has a different house – will make a pleasant change, too.

My diary is still with the signals store (in a brown paper parcel labelled “Signals Stationery AF C2128 etc”) so this is being scribbled originally on some scrap paper, in the guard room. A weird sort of guard, this. We are in a barbed wire enclosure which contains stables, garages, the cookhouse and odd buildings at the moment. In the guard room we put some forms and a trestle table from the cookhouse – the place was quite empty when we came. Of course, we are handy for grub and can help ourselves to cocoa during the night. In one of these rooms there is a ghostly and ancient telephone, partially out of order as it can receive but not transmit.I have a lantern with very little paraffin therein.

There's a mosque tower nearby, from the platform of which a priest makes solemn calls to prayer at intervals. The dark hills loom all around the enclosure and the stars are the ceiling to which the hills are as walls. The local Arabs are supposed to be real buggers for stealing so this is a rough and ready but very vigilant guard – which is a condition that suits me. The 11p.m. reliefs have just gone out. Think I'll doze a bit, lying across the doorway, so that neither acquisitive arabs nor inquisitive Orderly Officer can surprise me.

Morning: Had the usual intermittent sleep from midnight onwards. Each set of reliefs fell over me every two hours. Expected to dismount at 7a.m. but have now been told that this is to be a 24 hour guard.
This place looks grand in the mornings light. Rocky hills! Some blokes are sad at having left the sea but I love hills and shall always love 'em!

Quiet forenoon, once we'd all been back to billets, in ones and twos, to change into shorts. Had some pleasant philosophical, literary and personal experiences discussions with West and Bibby (smoking innumerable cigarettes the while). “Rather nice, a small guard like this,” summarised West, “For twenty-four hours you are detached from the others and become a little community together”. Business was brisk in the afternoon, when arms began to arrive from Nathanya and had to be booked in. Some had to be re-issued almost at once; for awhile it was quite hectic. All went well. It was quite refreshing to have to use the methodical part of one's brain once more.

Now that the Battery has settled in, we find that the OC's statement re fewer duties at Nablus was hardly correct. This Guard is to be doubled and commanded by a sergeant with a bombardier as marching relief. Several times a week there will be a similar guard at Brigade HQ. There will also be troop fire picquet (which however do not need to mount with the guard here).

Tonight my small shit-order guard was proudly relieved by a guard 14 strong. When we fell-in for guard changing I had only three men with me on parade; the others were at their posts.After handing over the contents of the armoury I hurried back to billets and managed to sort my stuff out, roughly, before darkness fell – we've no black out arrangements in my room. I had eventually found quite a decent room (first floor back!) in a quiet part of the house. My three companions were Gayler, Cartwright and Hadlow. Four seems just the ideal number for a room and there's plenty of space for ourselves and our kits. The large, barred window faces about ENE and looks out at the great jebel towering above (rising to about 2500 feet, they say).


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