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Any Romance? Probably not

When on leave in Cairo in Gezira swimming-pool,
Drinking beer and immersing self in the waters cool,
I met a fair young maiden, never fairer did I see,
And a tale of woe and trouble she began to tell to me.
'Life' she said 'is very boring, such a frightful strain, my dear,
Your Service boys may all be heroes, but you've only one idea'.

... (verses about the various men she's met)

Oh the RAF talk of many things and the Army talk of tanks,
The Navy prefer action and confine themselves to thanks,
But whatever their rank or service, it is always all far too clear,
Whatever they may talk about, they've only one idea.

She ceased and looked for comfort, but in her hour of need,
I very much regret to state I proved a broken weed.
Saluting I arose and said 'Farewell I cannot stay I fear'
For just like all the others, I had but one idea.

from They had only one Idea, Ralph C Chopping, Oasis.

"We spent many evenings in the Segeants' Mess when they had a dance and this was very convenient because the Hut which was the ATS billet was very close and one could pop in and sign oneself 'in' and then pop out 'whenever'. They also held dances in the CID HQ mess in the Russian Compound and these were great fun." Dot Foster, email August 2009.

Romantic opportunities were plentiful for servicewomen, regardless of rank, as they were far outnumbered by men. For Officers and Palestine Policemen meeting women was no problem either as they had the freedom, money and opportunity to meet servicewomen or civilians. The men, however, had little chance of meeting women socially at all — respectable or otherwise.

Having a boyfriend, especially a Palestine Policeman meant that a woman could also travel more freely around Palestine:

"My 'civilian' took me around and about so that I saw so many exciting places and 'happenings' The Holy Sepulchre, the Stations of the Cross and a multitude of interesting things and places in the Old City; dancing under the stars and within trellised gardens of tavernas. The Church of Nativity in Bethlehem and the local shops selling all sorts of mother of pearl covered bibles/prayer books, etc. Also further afield with a late night visit to the Dead Sea and waiting to see the sun rise over the Jodanian mountains across the Dead Sea. Even floating in that saltiest of water which in those days was much higher than nowadays." Dot Foster, by email, July 2009

Men on leave or convalescence from the war or, later, stationed in Palestine had a tense and dangerous existence and to have a girlfriend brought some normality and comfort into their lives. In those days, too, a woman was free to have several boy friends until becoming engaged; she wasn't expected to be totally committed to one man on the strength of a date, nor to fall into some grotty bed for the price of a dinner. Mild romances were common and seen as fun.

The men mostly had just the NAAFI or other canteens (not even that if they were in some temporary desert camp) but ATS and WAAFs seemed to mix with all ranks and were usually based in Jerusalem or Haifa rather than some outpost so had a huge number of options for entertainment. As well as cinema, theatre or concerts there were all the bars and nightclubs — The Regency (in the King David Hotel), Pilz, Fink's, YMCA, NAAFI, Ravi's and many more as well as places like the Jaffa Club. It's a wonder they managed to fit in work at all and I understand it was not unknown to go from a social engagement straight in to work and then out again with only brief stops to change.

For those interested in something more active there were the beaches and, especially if you had a Palestine Police contact, riding. And, of course, plenty of sightseeing locally or further afield to Cairo, Beirut or Damascus.

Women were permanently worried about their boyfriends, knowing they were always in danger and as many women worked in Communications they sometimes knew more about a situation or forthcoming action than their boyfriend did.

"John's billet was on the top floor of the CID building, his room overlooked Jaffa Road. While he was there an explosion badly damaged a corner of the building. Eventually I discovered that John was not injured but that I could not visit him or he me because he was one of those involved in helping to clear up the debris from the bombing which included much important material (Registry index cards) which needed to be salvaged and saved. Not being exactly happy with this information, I continued the pressure and was allowed to meet with John for a few minutes and a cup of tea at the Church Army canteen; a sight I shall always remember of him looking like a tramp after scrabbling through the debris!" Dot Foster, email August 2009.

Honey traps were not unknown and Zionist women were encouraged to befriend officers in the hope of learning military secrets from pillow talk. There was an unsuccessful attempt to snare Major General Hugh Stockwell and no doubt other senior officers. Such traps were sometimes successful and one of the reasons security was so difficult. In My Trinity Eric Howard describes taking out a young woman whom CID later warned him off:

"I never saw her again; she left her job and her room, and I was convinced at the time that she was the perfect eyes and ears for the Haganah or even possibly the IZL. She worked in a café opposite the Police HQ and knew many policemen; she also spoke excellent English when she wished and never dislosed her family background."

In a place like Mandate Palestine courting was full of the the unexpected:

"Walking your girl back home could be fraught with difficulty too: Dorothy and I were walking back into Jerusalem from an evening with Jim and Ray Hartstone when the PBS was bombed. We had a difficult time with a young soldier (we were both in civvies of course) who wasn't too sure whether we were terrorists or not and we spent a long time convincing him to let me get my warrant card out of my pocket. I have strong memories of his sten gun stuck into my ribs and him visibly shaking in case I pulled out a gun (I always carried my .38 in a shoulder holster and a berretta in a pocket). However we finally convinced him and I gratefully escorted Dorothy to the YWCA and then made my way back to the CID billet. I recall being challenged by a TAC from the roof of the billet but he was much more easily convinced and I reached 'home' safely." John Foster, by email, July 2009

Emotion intensifies when no one knows if death is round the corner and young women pitied men in danger and far from home so were more accommodating than they would normally be. This does not mean that it was usual to permit sex but kissing and fondling was quite likely. Men were then often riven with guilt for being unfaithful to a wife or girlfriend at home. Becoming pregnant was a horror and would result in being sent home in disgrace. If your parents threw you out there was no benefit safety blanket to rely on, only charities for unmarried mothers and probable loss of the baby to adoption. Women were likely to pay a high price for being pregnant and rumours went round as to how you could get out of the problem: quinine and gin and jumping up and down was one unreliable method. Abortion has always been available for wealthy women and no doubt was in Palestine but ordinary women wouldn't know where to go or have the money so sex was unlikely unless the relationship was very serious. In Love, Sex and War, John Costello states that one way of getting out of war time conscription was to deliberately get pregnant, then have a backstreet abortion but I cannot believe this was very common.

With so very many men living and working close to very few women there could be problems but women have always been accustomed to dealing with men 'trying it on'. Persistent attempts from a man in a more powerful position such as a senior officer (the usual culprits), however, could pose a serious difficulty. Reporting it was unthinkable and unlikely to be taken seriously. The woman would probably be blamed for 'asking for it' and more than one woman had a close call 'fighting for her honour'. How many lost and kept silent out of humiliation or embarrassment is unknown.

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Marriage

"Oh you can't go to heaven
In a double bed
Unless you're well and truly wed.
No you can't go to heaven
In a double bed"
popular ditty of the time

The situation both during and after the war meant that no one was interested in long engagements and marriages sometimes took place after only a short courtship; Eve Stancliffe declined a proposal after only one date. Palestine Policeman John Foster and Dorothy Court, ATS, married within six weeks of meeting and have celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary but not all were so lucky. Some marriages should never have taken place as most young women of the time were ignorant and unlikely to know about homosexuality but men sometimes married as a cover or in desperation to fit in with what was expected. There was no 'gay pride'.

Men and women worked closely together so it's not surprising romances and marriages sprang up. Dot Court worked on the switchboard in the basement of the King David Hotel, John Foster used the bar in which there was a table from which the entrance to the switchboard could be seen. Her obliging sergeant would let her go and sit with him as she would be within calling distance if needed. Courting a Palestine Policeman could have its disadvantages if you wanted to keep anything quiet:

"One fascinating point during my courtship of Dorothy was that when I met her I was often able to say to her that she had been shopping or having tea or whatever and who she had been with! It was amazing that PPs in and about HQ would see her and tell me and I think she sometimes wondered if she was being followed deliberately!" John Foster, email August 2009.

man wearing arab headress, alsatian dog, and man wearing fez standing by covered pickup.
Ivangel and driver

Many marriages took place between service men and women but some married civilians. Eve Stancliff, ATS, for instance, married a Bulgarian Christian, Ivangel Stakleff. His grandfather had had to flee Bulgaria and got on the first boat he saw which happened to be sailing for Haifa. Palestine was home to many refugees. Although Eve was forbidden to continue her friendship as the violence was escalating and efforts were being made to stop service personnel mixing with civilians, she continued to see him. They were able to sneak off for a holiday in Lebanon which is where he proposed. She went home on demob, he went back too to meet her family, they married and returned to Palestime but within eighteen months were refugees themselves. During this time though she was able to meet his friends and enjoyed the experience of going to a Palestinian Arab wedding.

Even for a wedding, security could not be relaxed and on 1st March 1947 when Edwina Payton, ATS Chief Clerk in the King David Hotel, married B/Sgt James Mailey, her brother, who was stationed with the Welsh Guards in the north, got down to Jerusalem with two armoured cars to give her away in St George's Church. She and her husband travelled in an armoured car to Jaffa where they had a week's honeymoon. She went on to serve in the army for 33 years and retired as a Major. Source: Paddy (Margaret) Bellwood (served in WRAF 1954-1957)

Some soldiers were Jewish themselves, sympathised with Zionism, or just liked Palestine so married Jewish women and stayed. More came back to England with Jewish wives as marrying a British soldier was one way of getting out and though no doubt many were perfectly genuine at one stage officers were stopped from marrying Jewish women.

Difficulties

Getting married wasn't always plain sailing and Alex Dickson had to study law in order to get permission. There were often, too, objections from a family when a son or daughter wanted to mary a foreigner from a completely unknown culture. Eve Stancliff's family weren't particularly pleased when she told them she was going to marry a Bulgarian and live in Palestine.

A relationship between a Muslim or Jewish girl and a British man could be very dangerous for both parties, murder was not unknown as, sadly, Reg Hammond discovered. Sometimes authority had to step in to help resolve the situation:

"A chap I knew who worked in Investigations at Central Police Station was living 'over the brush' with a rather attractive bar girl and they shared a small flat just off Jaffa Road. One morning he entered the flat for his usual cup of coffee and was seized by two Arabs who put a gun in his ribs, took him to a car, blindfolded him and drove off. On arrival at a house he found his girlfriend had also been abducted because she refused to change her job and stop being with a Christian.
           The police were eventually informed of the disappearance and reason for the PC's abduction and his possible death at the hands of these fanatics. Negotiations were commenced by senior officers and the District Commissioner. Meanwhile off-duty PCs volunteered for mobile patrol of the Moslem areas and unofficial groups of PCs in civvies took to the streets on foot, all of us feeling very angry. Thankfully it was sorted out. Rather than lose her, the PC decided to change to the Moslem faith and marry the girl. He was returned to HQ under open arrest for his own safety. It took twelve days to sort out the preliminaries and during that time the Brotherhood had assassination squads outside HQ in case there was a move to get him out of the country, and we couldn't even touch them. After the marriage they were sent to Gaza and I believe they were some of the first to be evacuated." My Trinity, Eric Howard

A Muslim or Jewish girl or boy having even a friendship with each other could be murdered or at least be beaten and threatened. Today Jewish girls becoming friendly, or, worse, marrying Palestinians can expect trouble.

And then there's just sex

"One day I was told, 'Get your half track ready, you're going out with the Lieutenant'. Wasn't a lone vehicle against the rules? We drove quite a long way and eventually into the orange groves until we reached a clearing. In this clearing was a large old house. Our Lieutenant walked across and into the house. He came out with a dark haired maiden. They entered the orange groves. After a while they came out and he escorted her back to the house. He then rejoined us and said, with a smile on his face, 'Now I'll get you out of these orange groves'." Alan Booth, 13th Anti-Tank Regt, Gunners in Palestine, November 2002.

Much to the consternation of various authorities, many young people's sexual morals had somewhat disintigrated during WWII. Being away from home and experiencing danger and excitement made people live more for the moment and there was no one likely to tell your parents. There was also more opportunity and the influence of more worldly-wise peers. So in spite of the possible risks casual affairs, especially for officers, were not uncommon. Jerusalem and Cairo seem to have been particular hotbeds. Charlie Powell lived and worked in a fire station in Haifa but was working far longer hours than he should (literally having to sleep in the office on duty for days) because his sergeant was conducting an affair with a comely Jewish woman across the road.

newThere is prostitution and crime in every country but out here it has been brought to a fine art - hashish, opium and the woman slave traffic are three of the greatest evils. I really know very little about it, but the little I do know has convinced me that east of Gibraltar is not all glamour. It's interesting, however, and, as I am only human, I get a kick out of finding things out for myself. 14th December 1946, letter from Des Le Pard to his girlfriend, Barbs.

The only chance most of the men had to meet women was in the brothels of Haifa, Cairo, Alexandria or elsewhere and there was much talk and boasting of exploits which were unlikely to be more than total fantasy or 'remembering with advantages'. Brothels were accepted as a fact of life though there would be occasional forays by RMPs into red light districts looking for deserters. The majority of men and women were young and inexperienced and warning posters and horribly graphic films about venereal disease did much to put the fear of God into many of them. They had such an effect that posters had to be produced informing that VD could be cured. The advent of sulpha drugs and penicillin meant that instead of going sick for a month or so a man could continue duties while taking the drugs for 5 days. It was not a crime to get it but was a crime not to report it. There were regular 'short arm' inspections in an effort to control disease but how successful they were is debatable as young people think they are immortal and in war time sex is one of the few pleasures, especially when you know you may die soon.

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wedding couple standing under the stone arch of a church porch.
Betty Day and Larry Smith,
October 1945
wedding couple among ruins of London.
Jack Piper's parents, 1945
Marjorie and Geoff, 1947
Photo: Joyce Faris
man wearing arab headress, alsatian dog, and man wearing fez standing by covered pickup.
invite
Pinups were popular
Image: Orient Magazine
woman in arab dress and a mother holding her baby.
Halima, Eve and baby Terry
October 1947
handsome young man in bathing trunks standing on a beach.
There were plenty of
handsome young men
people seated at tables on a beach.
Arab coffee house, Tiberias
fishing boat on beach.
Fishing boat, Tiberias
2 young men and 2 young women in uniform standing by a stone wall.
Daphne and friends,
sightseeing in Jerusalem
2 young men and 2 young women in uniform standing by a stone wall.
A popular restaurant:
Grotte des Pigeons, near Beirut
palm trees on a  bay

 

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