Exit Us, Palestine Police Stand Down, 15th May 1948

YMCA Jerusalem with its tall tower
YMCA Jerusalem
Photo: Des Starbuck

"It started as all other days in early summer, as a beautiful morning and wisps of white clouds hovering below the blue Mediterranean sky and the faint smell of honeysuckle mixed with the earthy tang of parched soil came to life with the dew of spring. The scene lay below the mediæval walls of old Jerusalem around the Dome of the Rock and countless minarets and towers, while further afield one could see the tall tower of the YMCA masked by all that was left of the King David Hotel. All this was the same; and yet not the same. No longer did the vaulted streets of the old City echo to the sound of British voices, as British lads made their way to the Wailing Wall Post, the Rawdat Billet, past the Holy Sepulchre. There was no longer the banter of British humour as Jack passed Taffy with 'Abbie says you owe him fifty bob'. No curses as the night patrol come off duty and the walad sets down one cold egg, one piece of bacon before a thirteen stone and slightly wild-looking Irishman in Generali Billet. Instead there was the ghostlike appearance of a city without lights but with barbed wire, sandbags and destroyed buildings. This was the Holy City.

Suddenly a new smell filled the nostrils and tarnished the air, so cutting off the memories and thoughts that filled five hundred heads. The smell of petrol and oil as line after line of vehicles roared into life, each emitting a vapour that misted across the air and faded the scene below them. The men were no longer part of Jerusalem, yet were loathe to lose it as they paid attention to the Superintendent issuing final orders for dispersal and evacuation in the trucks now ticking over on the roadway beside the Depot Square. The sunlight caught the cap badges on the blue background of Police caps mirroring and magnifying the letters PP. The last time in Jerusalem these letters would be seen except in one small patch under green olive trees where they would remain as a perpetual reminder to those who live in the country that once they did serve and belong to this land.

A hush fell, which was only interrupted by the harsh throb of the armoured car engines as the Union Jack was slowly lowered from its flagstaff on the corner of the Depot building. A thousand eyes watched it come down. It was the end of an era, the end of yesterday, and through the minds of the men came such memories as Roy Fitze and the drill squads. Of the patrols through the Old City as well as the New City outside the gates. Of soccer and hard-fought rugby matches, of Tug-o'-War and athletics. Nights at Spinneys. Nights reloading Lewis Guns. All these thoughts, multiplied a thousand times, crossed the thoughts of those watching the flag lowered from the mast. Then came the shattering order, "Fall out and get aboard".

Swiftly and agilely, everyone clambered into the waiting three tonners. Rifles in hand. Tommy-guns passed up. Foot after foot left the ground, each taking with it the last particle of the dusty earth that had helped to make history through four thousand years. Finally the tail boards were up and the drivers walked to the front of the vehicles. Slowly they gazed back to take their last look at the Eternal City from which they would now depart as they negotiated with care the winding road towards Haifa. Door after door slammed shut and the sun now caught the silver braid of the Superintendent's cap as he signalled the convoy to start. There was a crescendo of power as vehicle after vehicle moved forward swirling the dust into a voluminous cloud which obscured the view and preventing the click of many a camera shutter held in so many hands as the owner strove to capture the last memory of years spent below.

view overlooking Jerusalem
The Holy City
Photo: Des Starbuck

The pennant on the aerial of the leading armoured car fluttered proudly into the breeze and the engines settled into an even hum. The soft lilt of a Welsh voice in one truck broke into ' The Holy City', to be followed one by one by more voices until the whole air vibrated with the sound of song above the noise of engines. Already some men had settled down to reading a book, while others played cards, but the vast number looked back to whence they came, silently contemplating each building on the landscape. Seeing the grey city and noticing the colour of stones and rocks. The treeless and uncompromising countryside, but knowing there had been many happy hours, as well as hours of danger and misunderstanding. As the distance between city and convoy increased, they saw a camel train crossing a wadi, the Arab drover as languid as ever seemed to sense the moment of contemplation and he raised his hand in salute as well as farewell. The men waved back in return holding their hands high as if they were not just waving farewell to him but also to all those they left behind. As the convoy curved its way around the bend they lost sight of him and with him, Jerusalem. (Terry Shand)

From the Palestine Police Old Comrades Association News Letter, September 1977, p.38, which is, itself, taken from Taht el Taht, No 4, December 1962 - Sydney NSW.