"Our Loggia has a marble floor, with purple bougainvillea from roof to balustrade, and we look down through leafy palms on marble steps, falling in shade towards the sea, while around the orange groves bask in the sun." 'It is Bliss Here', Myles Hildyard.
Accommodation wasn't all quite like this and it certainly helped to be an officer. 'Home' usually varied from rough tented camps in which many soldiers lived for years, to hostels and more established barracks. Lance Bombadier V Emery of 112 LAA Regiment RA, describes life in Camp 71 at Hadera in 1945/6.
One of the chaps was shaving in the wash-house, and he had just lathered his face when he heard the khamsin and went outside to have a look-see. Unimpressed, he returned to continue his shave, but upon looking into the mirror he found that where before had been a bubbly mass of lather, a chin entirely innocent of any trace of shaving-cream presented itself. Highly incensed but now quite impressed, he went outside again, felt a tugging at his hand, grabbed, missed and lost his towel. Quite demoralized now, he thought "to hell with the shave" and returned to his tent with a bristly chin, only to get seven days jankers last night for being "dirty on parade". 15th October 1946, letter from Des Le Pard to his girlfriend, Barbs.
Wherever you were billeted the weather was something to get used to as it could be remarkably hot, cold, wet or even snowy. Sand storms could blow up and the Khamsin was something to be reckoned with; in the season one could be expected every fortnight. Many soldiers also became accustomed to travelling through or living in desert country.
An unfortunately placed temporary camp in a wadi could be suddenly and completely washed away after a downpour on nearby high ground.
A few of the Camps
The camps were known and are mostly remembered just by a number. Camp 21 was near Nathanya, 69 at Latrun, 71 near Hadera, 153 at Tireh near Haifa and 410 was for the ATS in Allenby Barracks in Jerusalem. The following camps are particularly well-remembered:
Sarafand Garrison (the Aldershot of Palestine) was huge and established having been a peace-time camp which then grew throughout the war. Most servicemen seem to have spent some time here. There were many facilities: NAAFI, cinema, swimming pool, library, hospital, etc.
expectations as far as living conditions are concerned and
it is a vast improvement on the other joint which was
nothing but a large expanse of sand, covered with tents
and surrounded by a still larger expanse of sand! The only
grouse we have about this place is the fact that if we do
have any time off it is impossible to go anywhere."
11th November 1946, letter from Des Le Pard
to his girlfriend, Barbs.
Khayat Beach, near Haifa The location was fine, very close to the good beach along which was the Crusaders' castle at Athlit. A Military Cemetery is also here.
Petah Tikva, a Jewish agricultural settlement (the first modern one) but now just an urban sprawl, was also one of the main bases. In 1946 Italian POWs were waiters, cooks, etc here so apparently the food was rather good.
There were many others, some very temporary with few facilities, others a bit more comfortable and near towns full of new experiences.
Police camps, usually in one of the Tagart forts, were more permanent and Constable James Wood describes life in the Palestine Police camp, Bassa Tegart, in 1947.
Life for the men, particularly in the final few months confined to camp except for duties or operations, was grim and boredom a big problem. Danger, which could come from anyone anywhere was ever-present so nerves were strained and there was little relief. A few understandably took to drink. They weren't even safe in barracks:
"1947. The next move was the 'hot spot', Jerusalem. Here all tents had a protective concrete wall, shoulder height, built inside tents. Those who were against British forces would suddenly drive past at very fast speed and machine gun the camp. Night foot patrols were hazardous. Automatic fire would suddenly open up (without tracer bullets) from the insurgents. It was difficult in a built up area to locate their firing position. Bombing was frequent." Basil Davie, Irish Guards.
Food (and Drink)
"During my time in the Army I could not recollect a week going by without corned beef and Spam popping their heads up in some concoction or other. Hot and cold, boiled and fried, plain and in batter at any time of the day. I never tired of it. I take my hat off to the Army Catering Corps. Thinking back to the time when we had no Christmas dinner thanks to our drunken cooks I'm inclined to put my hat back on again - but no, we survived. Bully beef and Spam in excess, a choice of two jams, bread as usual containing the extra protein of live weevils, lashings of tea and two bottles of beer. A repast fit for a King!" 'Enduring the Hour', Ted Hall.
The sudden abundance of food after England was much appreciated, even if camp cooking wasn't always what it might be. Instead of one egg a week you could have as many as you liked just for breakfast, and egg and chips seem to have been the standard meal in the NAAFI and local cafés.
Beer also made life more bearable: one Christmas Ted Hall was sent to pick up a load of beer in Jaffa and found himself in the middle of a gun battle where a bit of name dropping helped.
As few fridges were available, one way to make drinks cold was to wrap a block of ice in hessian and put it with the drinks in an ammo box. On his jaunt to the Dead Sea and Jerash Tony Lycett also said that the officer's batman would put a bottle of Stella in a wet sock and hang it out of the Jeep. Very effective, apparently. He didn't say whether anyone else was offered a drink.
Recreation and sport
An afternoon of battle
and bullets, and the Army
playing football among them.
Another lovely day."
Sir Henry Gurney's Diary.
All the usual army activities continued as far as the security situation permitted as commanding officers considered sport particularly important in maintaining morale. There was cricket and football, of course, whether organized inter-unit matches or just casually around the barracks; boxing, athletics, motor-cycle events, gymkhanas, dog shows, competitive sports days (Ted Hall describes the 1st Infantry Division, RA's, Sports Day at Tel Letwinsky in August 1947), tent pitching competitions, and so on. As far as possible inter-Regiment competitions continued not just in Palestine but throughout the Middle East and officers still managed to get in some shooting whenever they could. There were also many cultural events such as concerts, either with an orchestra or gramophone records. Tel Aviv was particularly rich in cultural opportunities thanks to the many Jewish refugee professional musicians. For everyone there was the cinema; often visited many times a week though not without hazard:
"John and I were in the cinema in the German Colony, Jerusalem, and the film included a lot of shooting. As usual in such circumstances we sat at the rear of the cinema, often with other friends, but it was not until we left the cinema that we realized that there was actual shooting going on outside. With bullets ricocheting around us we literally laid down in the gutter, crawled along to the end of the road and quickly entered another friend's premises which were above the local Police Station." Dot Foster (Court) by email, July 2009
Going to the cinema was a major activity (along with egg, chips and beer somewhere), either Army Kinema Corporation (AKC) shows or, before troops were confined to barracks, in the local townships. The open air cinemas were pleasanter than the indoor ones as everyone smoked so much. One problem with open-air cinemas though was, of course, the likely background noises of pi dogs, donkeys and traffic with perhaps a delicate counterpoint of gunfire and the odd explosion. In some places Palestinian Arab and Jewish employees had to go on separate nights to prevent fights breaking out. The North Palestine Circuit of AKC serviced 12 camp cinemas, circulating a total of 35, usually new, films in the two week period so there were plenty of films to see. Transporting the films could be risky and sandbags were put on vehicle floors to give some protection from mines.
"Outside the cinema were those ubiquitous vendors selling just about everything. Favourite among which was ice-cold, freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice, quite delicious and irresistible. There were also mountains of roasted and salted monkey nuts, still in their shells, which were also delicious and irresistible. So much so in fact that I don't remember ever once going to the cinema when the floor was free of a thick carpet of monkey nut shells. Sweets, chocolate and ice cream were also available. There was also a small café, the Victoria Café, just outside the camp gates where we used to go for 'supper' usually consisting of a mixed grill washed down with half pints of port and lemon!!!" 'Straight from the Horsa's Mouth', Ted Mold.
Occasionally there would be entertainments and concert parties by visiting famous, and not quite so famous, stars of film or theatre:
"On to Rafah Ordnance Camp. Its immensity alarmed me a little till I discovered that the English there were quite few. We drove to our tent and found it beautifully laid on with blue rugs over rush matting, chest of drawers, dressing-table and even a jam jar full of flowers. Dinner in officers' mess eaten on a long narrow verandah watching the stars come out and listening to a small regimental dance band, on loan from Haifa for six days, playing for our entertainment. Lights failed but it was really rather lovelier in the starlight." October 6 1944, The Time of my Life, Joyce Grenfell
what was effectively a private country club, at
Capurnaum on the north end of the lake (Galilee).
This was a big villa originally owned by the Mond
family, called Villa Melchett. It was a lovely place
to picnic and spend the afternoon swimming,
or sailing in a cutter which was kept there."
'An Undistinguished Life', Andrew Gibson-Watt
Card and board games were popular and there was always reading especially as troops could get books from Egypt which, although badly printed, were banned at home. Lady Chatterley's Lover, for instance. Towards the end of the Mandate when troops were confined to barracks except when on duty these were some of the few options available. There was the NAAFI but the men had very little money to spend so buying meals and drinks was not always possible. Those making money from all the illegal trading, of course, were not quite so restricted.
Except when the unrest became too great officers enjoyed the kind of life they were used to leading at home: plenty of socialising plus hunting and shooting particularly around Lake Huleh (an area of marshland since drained for agriculture). Their leisure time was a world away from the men's.