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Going on Leave — if you're lucky




Leave, Compassionate, Children, Production, for the use of
(At the end of the war Sir James Grigg, Minister of War, authorized leave for fathering children)

The Middle East has now released a gallant group of men,
Of future Dads, like Galahads,
who have the strength of ten,
And every dame must be the same,
for it is infra dig,
That they should dare a child to bear uncertified by Grigg.
from an anonymous poem in Oasis
Nathanya leave camp
Source: Bill Greenfield
Reverse of above map
Source: Bill Greenfield

"During the war the Army had operated a scheme whereby any man who had served overseas for four years was repatriated. This was known as PYTHON, a reference to the Army eating its own tail. Towards the end of 1945, a new scheme was introduced named LIAP, which letters denoted Leave In Addition to Python. Under LIAP, any person who would have served overseas three years, before being demobilised, was to be given a short home leave." source: Jim Glew's memories, WW2 Peoples' War

drawing of very happy soldier with kit, spinning a stick.
High hopes!

Relatively peaceful Palestine was a desirable spot for leave or convalescence during the war but after the war Cyprus, Lebanon (possible punchups with the French), Egypt (when there was no rioting) were enjoyed for local leave and provided opportunities, at the Army's expense, which might never come again — ski-ing was not a sport enjoyed by many. Some, like Sid Dowland, Grenadier Guards, were able to get down to South Africa; he wanted to visit people in Durban who had been so hospitable on his way out. If you were really lucky there was the chance to go home. Brian Heaney unexpectedly got 28 days home leave though it became three months. Any break from the grind of daily duties, carrying a weapon and forever being on the qui vive was welcome.

1945/6 were good years for leave before travelling around Palestine became too dangerous. The war was finally over and there was demob to look forward to. Some made friends with local people, both Jew and Arab, and were able to visit and stay in villages where they were often invited to weddings or bar mitzvahs. Sports meetings, cricket matches or rifle shoots also provided an opportunity to travel away from barracks, perhaps even to the fleshpots of Egypt. Sometimes duty was combined with leisure like Tony Lycett's jaunt to the Dead Sea and Jerash. Selection for a course at home could give the chance of leave as Trevor Hall enjoyed in December 1946; after a course at Bordon he had 30 days at home before going back to Palestine.

old postcard of painting of long, low building with two towers on sea shore.
Dome Hotel, Kyrenia, Cyprus
Photo: Daphne Mawby

Daphne Mawby, a WAAF wireless operator, managed to get quite a bit of leave and went all over the region with friends. Travel was easier for air force people as getting a lift in a plane was simple. Others would get the regular shuttle to Lebanon or elsewhere or simply hitch lifts — ATS Joyce Mariner hitched lifts from both civilian and service vehicles. Officers were better off in this respect since they had more freedom to get hold of a vehicle and driver or had the money to buy or hire a car.

Senior ranks often arranged their own trips for their unit and Norman Dannatt, based in Jerusalem, was lucky enough to have a sergeant who would arrange sightseeing trips including one which took in Damascus, Baalbek and Beirut.

By 1947/8, however, troops were not likely to be so lucky as units were being withdrawn and duties doubled up:

I was one of the unfortunate ones who missed out on LIAP. I was due in Feb 48 but as you know they stopped all leave in order to maintain strength before we pulled out in May so when we got to Egypt we were offered a week in Cyprus. I had a great time and didn't want to go back to El Ballah." Letter from George Tolley, March 2009.



The sea journey to Cyprus was only about 70 miles and "the leave ship, Tripolitania left the heavily guarded quayside at Haifa two or even three times a week. Each time, just before departure to Famagusta the hull was inspected by frogmen for possible terrorist mines." (Forgotten Conscripts, Eric Lowe) There was also an FFI (Free From Infection) parade, repeated on return.

A popular place in Cyprus was the Pine Tree Holiday Camp at Troodos, 5,500 ft above sea level. Accommodation was in tents but there were good facilities. There were also the beaches, Golden Sands Holiday Camp, Camp 181 and the YMCA in Kyrenia; no armed guard needed. For those wanting a livelier time there was the Garrison Club in Nicosia and nightlife in Famagusta. The WVS ran sightseeing trips as well as providing other services.

Sometimes leave could be unexpected:

"We had been called out from Camp 87 to assist in rounding up illegal Jewish immigrants and escort them to a camp in Cyprus which was still under construction. This was on board the Empire Heywood, and having seen our passengers safely ashore we were informed that our return to Haifa would be delayed and that we could take seven days local leave. At Nicosia our leave pay was arranged and we were advised to head for Kyrenia, a nice little seaside village. Having sorted out our accommodation, we made our way to the harbour where there was a great deal of excitement due to the fact that a luxury motor yacht had dropped anchor and a party of VIPs were in town.

This turned out to be King Farouk of Egypt with his sister, Princess Fawzia, and their entourage who were cruising the Mediterranean. They walked down the main street of the seaport, did a little shopping and finished up at the post-office where the King, being a stamp collector, bought sheets of stamps of all denominations before returning to his yacht. I seem to remember this was the highlight of our leave as we very soon ran out of money and finished by selling our blankets to enable us to get back to Famagusta to get the boat back to Haifa." Alan Q Griffiths, 19/48th Field Regiment, Gunners in Palestine Nov 2001


The fleshpots and comfort of Cairo and, particularly during the war, Alexandria, provided leave for many. Cairo of course had the pyramids and Luxor as well as the opportunity to sail and swim, go horse-racing at the Gezira Club (more likely if you were an officer), or sample the rather questionable nightlife — which was a bit different to what they were used to at home. Alexandria had the Fleet Club, open to all, and numerous bars as well as a pleasant beach and promenade. Some would take the chance to visit battlefields where they or their friends had fought. Leave in Egypt was also often for convalescence. When Denis Burns, RAOC, developed tonsilitis in Rafah he was sent across the Sinai to BMH Fayid:

" 'After the operation I was on a diet of ice-cream and jelly for about a week and then moved to Deversoir Convalescent Depot for two weeks' rest and recuperation. It was like a holiday', said Dennis. It was a pleasant change to lay aside the inevitable weapons and escape the feverish activity of the withdrawal from the much troubled Holy Land. He was able to go swimming and on a number of occasions swam across the Suez Canal." Forgotten Conscripts, Eric Lowe, p142

For some army duties could be as good as a spot of leave. Staff Sgt Ray Yellop regularly went to Tel-el-Kebir:

"Tek was really a holiday, breakfast at 8.30am then down to the depot to check on the mail from Haifa before going to the NAAFI for coffee; back then to check on the different departments to make sure all orders were being dealt with. After lunch we would hire an army truck for one shilling to tke us to Ismalia for a swim in the Great Bitter Lake, returning in time for afternoon tea before checking that the convoy was being loaded. We dressed each evening for dinner in the mess and that was always followed by a film show. Someone in the mess was in charge of the projector and we saw all the latest films." Forgotten Constripts, Eric Lowe.

There were many ex-German and Italian prisoners of war still in the Middle East either waiting to be repatriated or because they had neither home nor family to return to.

"The military camp inside Cairo used to house Australians and the only people in it now were German prisoners of war awaiting repatriation and they did all the work for us. They cooked the meals, served the meals, cleaned the tents, made your beds. I don't know whether it was under the threat of the lash or what but that's what they did and they seemed to be quite decent people. Gerald Cottom, Medic, 3 Para



Lebanon was nearby and very popular. There was the sophisticated city of Beirut with its excellent restaurants, as well as beaches, mountains and ancient sites to visit. Beirut was the city Tel Aviv aspired to be. Jack Harris who had gone from Normandy to Belsen before arriving in Palestine had the chance of two weeks at a ski centre in the Lebanon. He and his friend, David Chapman, jumped at the opportunity:

"I still haven't had a better holiday in the 60 years that have elapsed since then. We set off in a jeep along the coast, such a beautiful coast with mountains dropping directly into the sea. Eventually we reached Beirut, occupied by the French for so long that the nightlife was Paris-by-the-sea. However, we were not allowed to stay more than one night. What mattered to us was getting to the Cedars of Lebanon, an area frequented by rich Arabs as their holiday resort. Everywhere was covered in thick crispy snow and the sun shone from the crack of dawn till nightfall. We were 10,000ft above sea level and able to look across the mountains to the Mediterranean. We soon got cracking learning to ski. There were no ski lifts or other aids but being young and fit we soon became skilled skiers. How could such a holiday end? In fact it didn't end on time. The day before we were due to leave there was a terrible snowstorm that completely blocked the road from the Cedars down to the coast. It was impossible to use the road and a snow plough sent from Beirut broke down.
        What should have been a two week break ran into a whole month of good food, beer and sunshine. Above all, there was a rest centre for nurses in one of the hotels, so we were dancing every night — Oh! What a lovely war". Forgotten Conscrips, Eric Low.

Some managed a tour of the whole area though when Andrew Gibson-Watt and a friend toured Syria and Lebanon bubonic plague had broken out in Haifa (a not unusual occurrence) and they had to be inoculated first which gave some unpleasant side-effects. It didn't stop them having a great time as they visited the Cedars of Lebanon, drove on to the wonderful Krak de Chevaliers in Syria and finished in Damascus. Distances are not great and so many interesting places were within easy reach.


plain book cover.
YMCA guide

With just a day or two's leave then it was Palestine and visiting famous biblical places. There was plenty of information about the Holy Land available in numerous guidebooks, and regular day trips by the Army, YMCA, or others were organized. People also organized their own and were able to use local transport or hitch although this, of course, soon became impossible. Local guides conducted tours and local photographers provided packs of all the well-known places and buildings. Accommodation, particularly in Jerusalem, could be difficult and there was some resentment of army personnel based there filling the hotels and preventing those who were not leading such a relatively cushy existence from finding a bed when on a few day's leave.

Nursing sister Phyl Etty, based in a hospital in El Kantara, decided to go to Jerusalem with friends for Easter 1945. They got a lift in a staff car as far as Haifa:

"After stopping in Gaza for a meal we proceeded to Haifa. This was a busy port with a fair amount of shipping and due to the fact it was Easter was full of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. We arrived early evening and were taken to a wonderful hotel half way up Mount Carmel - this had a glorious view of the harbour and the wild flowers, cyclemen, lillies, anemones and jonquils were in great profusion. The next day we had to get a bus to Jerusalem. The Haifa bus station was a mass of Greeks, Arabs, Jews, Syrians and Cypriots all bound for the same destination (Jerusalem for Easter). We, being in uniform, were always allowed on the buses and trains first. This was not very acceptable to the many waiting in the queues and fists were raised and I'm sure swear words used as we alighted. It was here we met a very charming Armenian Fleet Air Arm Officer who was stationed down on the Dead Sea. He arranged for us to visit him there." Phyl Etty, BBC People's War.

ATS Joyce Mariner and friends had a good time touring round Galilee taking in the Jordan, Dead Sea and Jericho:

5 friends in a car and looking happy. 3 men and 1 woman in uniform crossing a bridge.
people standing on and by stone ruins. group of mena and women, some in uniform, beside the water.

Hospital — an alternative

The East has caught up with me and I am down with a slight dose of sandfly fever. It doesn't hurt at all except for headaches now and then, and the nights are rotten because you are too hot to be able to sleep. We moved here, Petah Tickvah, yesterday and soon after we arrived I passed out and woke up in here. There's one thing about it - no guards or road blocks for a couple or so days and as much sleep as I wish (and that will be a heck of a lot!) 2nd September 1946, letter from Des Le Pard to his girlfriend, Barbs.

So long as the illness or injury wasn't too awful hospital could be as good as leave. Without the drugs or treatment (or pressure to get rid of you) we have today, stays in hospital tended to be longer and then often a move to a convalescent camp like Nathanya:

"Every night there was a singsong and free beer ration: a one litre bottle of Gold Star Beer shared by two patients or for those patients with jaundice a bottle of Guinness. Eventually I became an up patient and doing my share of ward duties, this included joining a team of four who distributed the nightly ration of beer and stout. A surprising perk went with the job. Some patients didn't want their half litre of Gold Star and even more of the jaundice patients didn't want their Guinness. After the distribution was finished we met in the ward kitchen to drink the unwanted beer by tipping it all into a white enamel pail and dipping our drinking mugs into the mixture. It was a Jewish-Irish type of Black and Tan and I went to bed feeling slightly giddy." Forgotten Conscripts, Eric Lowe.

And for the really desperate — the Glasshouse

"One certain way that a soldier could escape from the treadmill of the routine in which he felt trapped was to commit a misdemeanor of such magnitude as to warrant a Court Martial and be sent to a detention barracks. In the last days of the British Mandate so many were found guilty that at times there was no room for them in the detention barracks. When this occurred the sentence had to be served in the camp and this meant sleeping in the cells, on the spot soul destroying rigorous exercise on the parade ground, and fatigues in the cookhouse and around the camp. Theft and desertion were two of the offences frequently cited for the surge in military crime. Some deserted and were never caught and others deserted with the sole intention of making a trip to sell some stolen goods." Forgotten Conscripts, Eric Lowe.

To go to prison deliberately was not for the faint-hearted but it did happen and has to be seen in the context of hard army life at the time. After an initial tough time life inside could become quite acceptable as Danny Godfrey of 2 Base Ammo Depot, Wadi Sarar, found:

Life improved when Danny was transferred to work in the Sergeant's Mess. It was a job he wanted to keep. He wrote 'I kept the place spotless and leftovers included huge slices of bacon, uneaten sausages, loads of bread and other delicacies that I took back to the lads. Half smoked cigarettes were left which taken to the other side, where smoking was a punishable offence, and rerolled, made countless cigarettes.
         Our keepers were loud of mouth, doing what they had been selected to do, intimidate. There was one exception, and he was a Samaritan. We went with him to pick up stores and both there and back he allowed us to smoke. He also had a bag of sweets that he shared with us.' Forgotten Conscripts, Eric Lowe

Cliff Martin on home leave.
three men seated at a table and eating watermelon. there are more slices of melon on the table.
Eating watermelons, River Yarkon,
Photo: Jack Burgin
low buildings, one domed, by road with a hill rising up behind.
Hot Springs, Tiberias
Photo: Daphne Mawby
large building on street corner.
YMCA Hostel in Jerusalem
large scaffolded building on sea shore. small bay with boats in front of it.
St George's Hotel, Beirut
Photo: Daphne Mawby
people standing on a bridge over a river in stony gully.
Troodos, Cyprus
Photo: Daphne Mawby
man being towed on a surfboard, navy ship in distance.
Water ski-ing in Egypt
Photo: Gil White
interior of small boat with man in afrika corps cap at the tiller.
Boating on the Nile
Photo: Gil White
many simple graves with basic wooden crosses in desert.
El Alamein
Photo: Des Starbuck
sign board for Halfaya pass in desert with mountains behind.
Halfaya Pass
Photo: Eric Hogg
sign board for Halfaya pass in desert with mountains behind.

Photo: Eric Hogg
snow-covered trees.
Cedars of Lebanon
Photo: Daphne Mawby
advertisement for Egged bus. line drawing of happy driver at the wheel.
The familiar Egged bus
On leave in Tel Aviv
Photo: Des Starbuck
London Square, Tel Aviv
Photo: Des Starbuck