Getting in the beer for Christmas - not without hazard

Lorry load of Danes
Photo: Leif Thomsen,

"Two weeks to another Christmas and I wonder how many more will pass before peace comes to this land. Despite everything I am beginning to look forward to the festivities. Two of the Danish lads provided my armed escort when I drove out of camp to fetch supplies. Big lads these Danes and well liked by all of us. They had joined the British Army expecting, like many of us, to fight the Axis Powers and finished up here, combating terrorists.

Bad news at the depot, no beer! "I daren't go back without beer, it's the only thing the lads have to look forward to!" "If you want it that bad, you'll have to fetch it from the brewery!"

With a signed and stamped chit in my pocket I followed the directions. After a surprisingly quiet journey we arrived at the ornamental iron gates fronting a large modern building on the coast near Jaffa.

The crack of a rifle, much too close for comfort, caused the Dane who was in the process of dismounting to change his mind. Three more shots in rapid succession, coming from atop the flat-roofed houses just behind us, "You're OK to open the gates, it's the Arabs, they aren't aiming at us, they're shooting at the Jews in the Brewery!" Nobody moved, the firing increased. We can't sit here, I thought. "If the Jews return the fire we are going to be caught in the middle." I decided to open the gates myself but my door wouldn't open. Twice, I put my shoulder to it, to no avail. I couldn't understand it.

"Here is much danger, stay where you are, my friend!" the voice of the 'Galilean' [1], a voice that judging by their wide-eyed but unaltered expressions, had gone unheard by the two Danes. "Don't worry!" For a moment I almost added "the Galilean will protect us", but I though better of it. "You there!" blasted the voice over the megaphone. I looked to my right, back up the road we had come down.

"Yes, you!"

I could see the Palestine policeman's head protruding out of the top of an armoured car. Oh, what a wonderful sight, I knew who was responsible for his arrival, it wasn't just luck!

"Do not get out, keep your doors shut and reverse back here!"

No sooner said than done. I greeted him with a smile which he didn't appreciate.

"What the bloody hell do you think you are doing!"

Silently, I wondered that myself. Risking the lives of the Danes and my own, for the sake of a beer and me a 'Rechabite [2] since birth!

"Damn it, don't you know this area is out of bounds?"

His rank was no higher than mine, but calling him sir, I reasoned, would do no harm.

"Sorry sir, but the depot directed me here," I said, showing him the chit.

"Notices everywhere," he fumed. "Can't you bloody well read?"

"Yes officer, but I was concentrating on my driving and watching out for trouble."

"Can't your bloody escort read?"

"They're Danish and only know a smattering of English."

"Always an answer for everything. I've met clever buggers like you before. Let's have your details, starting with name, rank and number!""

"Do you know Graham Moulson?" I asked in desperation. He looked up from his notepad. I've only made matters worse, I thought. Then I saw his expression change. "Yes, I know a Graham Moulson. If I remember correctly, he joined us on a transfer from the army in in 1945."

"That's him, he comes from Cressbrook, we've known each other since we were lads."

"What a small world!" he said, putting away his notepad and pencil.

"Is Graham stationed with you?" I asked.

"No, he was with me at Nablus, then I think he went to Bethlehem. Hang on a minute," he said and ducked down into his armoured car. After a brief conversation with his companions he reappeared, "At present, Graham's stationed at Jenin."

"Thanks. If I get a chance I'll look him up next time I'm in that area. When you see him, tell him Trevor Hall has been asking about him."

"Trevor Hall," he repeated. "I remember Graham telling me about a cousin of his in the Army called 'Tiny' Hall, who he met up with in Haifa."

"That would have been Ken Hall, a giant of a man from Litton. I know him well, in fact I worked with his younger brother Roy on the Co-op bread van before I enlisted."

Nearby, the rifle fire of the Arabs was still meeting with no response from the Jews. I decided to press my luck, "I don't suppose it's in your power to let me pick up a few crates of ale before I go?"

A frown puckered his brow. "Half an hour at the most," I urged.

"Half an hour and not a minute longer!" he said, pointing up the side road that led to the rear of the building.

"Take the coast road out, it should be quieter. In future keep away from 'Out of bounds' areas and if the Military Police get you we haven't seen you, understand?"

Christmas morning, 1946
Photo: Leif Thomsen,

"OK, and thanks a lot."

"We are in a hurry," I said, handing over the depot chit to an oldish man in a khaki dustcoat. He nodded and shouted out instructions in a language I didn't understand.

"Help yourselves to a few drinks," said the young Jew in perfect English. There were 12 bottles in the crate he had brought us. Such was the heat I was on my third bottle before I even tasted it and the Danes were ahead of me!

In 25 minutes the lorry was loaded and we were ready to go. "Can we ride with you to our homes just along the road," the young Jew asked, stowing more bottles of beer in the cab for us. "OK, but hurry up and keep out of sight!" I watched them climb aboard and I realised that we had more Jews in the back than we had crates of beer.

"Stay where you are, armoured car," I said to myself, waving to the policeman at the bottom of the road.

Along the bumpy track by the coast, it dawned on my why my passengers were so keen to obtain a ride. For a few hundred yards it was open ground exposed to the Arab snipers on the flat-roofed houses. Thankfully, no bullets came our way.

As soon as I braked to a stop, the brewery workers were away runing towards the cluster of houses without a word of thanks or goodbye.

At the nearby junction where we joined a tarmacadam road, a white robed figure raised a hand, I waved back. The Danish lads were looking at me as if waiting for an explanation. I said nothing. Not a word was spoken by any of us until we reached Camp 21.

"Say nothing to nobody about going into the out-of-bounds area, otherwise we shall all get it in the neck!" I made sure they understood before we unloaded.

Lights out," and here in Kfar Yona all is quiet. Not all those Jews I've seen and met today will be asleep just yet. Some among them under the cloak of darkness have mines to lay, traps to set and triggers to squeeze, and all of us who wear the King's uniform are their targets. After a time the unseen enemy causes the mind to run riot and jumping at my own shadow is a common occurrence. Thank God for the Galilean who keeps me safe and sane.

With the last bottle of my free beer, I drank a toast to my good fortune of knowing a Cressbrook lad in the Palestine Police. "Graham Moulson, your very good health!"

Enduring the Hour, Ted Hall.

1. The 'Galilean' was an illusion/Presence that stayed with Ted Hall during his time in Palestine.

2. Rechabite: member of a Christian group that swore total abstinence from alcohol.