Harry Devey's introduction to life in Palestine

"It was at this point we were enlightened about the new democratic army we had heard so much about. Forms were handed out in which we were asked to state where we would like to be posted and with whom. As there was an almost full-blown war going on in Greece and Palestine, these two places were extremely low on the list! I think I opted for Tripoli or Khartoum. All this sounded pretty good to us. Finally, a draft was assembled and so proceeded to the main railway station and there put on a troop train. It was so crowded, a lot of us, myself included, had to sit on the floor but after we moved off, I had the nagging thought that why was it that the six of us, who were all going to different places, were all on the same train. We were not too long in finding out for, when we crossed the Suez Canal at Alcantara, some bright spark chipped in with 'There is only one place this train is going, lads. Palestine - here we come!

We crossed the border and stopped at Gaza where an armoured train was put on the front. After a short stop we moved on towards Jerusalem. Men of the 6th Airborne Division were very much in evidence guarding the track along its complete length. At last we reached a place called Lydda which was an army railhead and here we had to get out and were formed up on the platform into our respective units. I remember vividly a detachment of the RAF Regiment who were very smart and remained practically at attention for the whole time we were there. The rest of us just hung about.

At last we were told that we would not be going any further by train as the track ahead had been blown up and Jerusalem station had been partially blown up a few days previously, so we would be moved up by truck. After a two hour journey we arrived at our unit, the 90 Btn, at Schneller Orphanage, a garrison on the edge of Jerusalem which we shared with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and was at that time within the 1st Infantry Division area. I was allotted a bed in a room with about ten other men and, by way of conversation, I remarked that it seemed reasonably quiet, but by the abuse hurled at me, my remark was not welcome! I was soon to find out why.

Mount of Olives
Photo: Bill Greenfield

The following morning we were paraded before the CO who welcomed us by saying that we were scruffy, our brasses were unpolished, our uniforms were dirty and un-pressed; in fact we were a disgrace to the British Army and to get ourselves sorted sharply. Before we could do this, a general alarm from the garrison to stand-to was sounded and we were told to form outside in battle order. It was noted that I was a bren gunner and I was ordered to pick a number two, draw a bren gun and two boxes of ammo from the armoury and take up a position overlooking the main gate. We remained there all day with the occasional bark of gunfire coming from the direction of the town. It got dark about seven o'clock and shortly afterwards the whole show started up with almost continuous gunfire and explosions with tracers coming from all directions. We were now joined by a Black Watch officer who ordered me to concentrate on an olive grove to my front but on no account to open fire. I held gun flashes constantly in my sights but was restrained from opening fire. This officer had an annoying habit of waving a cigarette lighter across the window opening 'to liven things up a bit' he said. He certainly did for a burst of fire blew the window out above us. He told us shortly afterwards that a patrol of Argylls was going to sort things out - which they did most effectively. One of the terrorists killed was a 16 year old girl. The firing continued for much of the night and we were stood down about 9 o'clock in the morning."

Source: written account by Harry Devey, May 2001