Friday, October 31, 2008

Saturday 3rd January 1941

Leave began, “subject to recall” of course. Oh! If they're going to invade Turkey, I hope they wait just 14 days!

Several of the hours prior to the start of my leave were spent in an amusingly contrasted way – around a centre of Punishment. (Field Punishment – almost the worst – and leave – certainly the best – of a soldiers lot, all in one day.)

Yes, I had to take one Gunner Bayliss of RHQ to Sarafand Field Punishment this noon. He threw down a revolver in Tobruch; it went off and wounded a man. A miles walk to the prison. I helped him with his heavy load until we got in sight of the grim barbed wire enclosure. “Escort stand fast. Prisoner, double!” “DOUBLE when you're told!” snapped another MP. In he dashed. I was waiting by the reception office with various documents. “Halt!” he halted. “Have you any cigarettes, tobacco or matches?” “I don't think so sir, I haven't...” “Well, you'd better not have any! You won't be needing them here. You've been sentenced to 28 days... and you'll address me as “sir”.... and everyone else you'll address as “staff” understand?” “Yes sir.” “About turn! Double!”

To me the officer said, “You'll have to come back for the receipt and to check his kit, at 2 o'clock.” “Sir, the BSM said I was to bring both papers back at once.” “Yes. Well you'll have to come back at 2 o'clock.” “Yes sir.”
(I wasn't arguing with that feller! He might have wanted me to stay in his little camp, doubling around!)

I was back just before 2p.m. and was let in after some formality. Bells jangled, whereupon wooden faced soldiers doubled to and fro. We checked my prisoners kit. He was clad in trousers and vest. They opened the windows wide, presumably so that the wintry wind should prevent him getting overheated.

“Put your things down there,” said a Corporal, “Quick!”
Poor Bayliss groped madly with multitudinous possessions.
“Got a Bible?' “No, sir.” “Staff!” “No, staff.”

When we'd finished, Bayliss had a few spare moments, whilst I was dipping pen in ink and signing three papers. So the RSM gave him a job to do. “Don't stand there!” he snapped, striding across. “Read the orders. Double! Halt!” (After two yards had been covered at the double) “Left turn. Read that order board.”

Papers in hand I marched smartly out. The sentry at the gate gave me a friendly look and let me through the wire. I gave him a wooden stare and marched away. After a while the spell dispersed, I lit my pipe and strolled on leisurely. Damn that place! I thought!

A couple of hours later, Jack Chenery and I arrived in Tel Aviv and booked a room at the Balfourian, the hotel at which I spent a weekend during the spring of 1940. In the evening we went to the cinema. It was the famous “Gone With the Wind”. Oh! What a film!

Tomorrow we go to Jerusalem. Maybe later we'll get to Jericho by some means. Why go to a wilderness? Well! In the summer of 1940, the battery went through the weird Jordan Valley, on an endurance test. (The extraordinary road to Jericho, a glimpse of the Dead Sea, and then Jericho itself – what a lovely surprise – and an hotel, “The Winter Palace Hotel”.) I silently vowed to come again, some day; it fascinated me. And beyond Jericho, far away near the top of a mountain, we saw buildings which seemed to hang on the side of the cliffs. Through a telescope we saw what looked like a bell upon a terrace above the abyss; and a man sitting beside the bell. Why, it might have been the Shangri-la of “Lost Horizon”! From that moment, the environs of Jericho fascinated me even as the “blue mountain” of my dreams used to continually fascinate my sleeping hours!

Now, perhaps we'll go nearer to the place on the mountain. And to Jericho; and to the Winter Palace Hotel; and to the Dead sea. But especially must we investigate Shangri-la! That's why I've brought my water bottle.

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