Orange Blossom by Lt Colonel Vernon Newton, OBE

soldiers in orange grove
orange grove
Photo: Edwin Jack

"Our worst time was in the spring of 1948 when things were becoming excessively exciting with IZL and Stern very much on the warpath. The orange blossom was in full bloom with exotic scent wafting everywhere on the breeze.

The citrus trees provided excellent cover for those lying in wait to ambush or detonate a mine, to blow up a train or a vehicle patrol. The scent of orange blossom, so delightful to one's sense of smell, could also convey a sense of danger.

41st Field Regt RA left Tel Litwinsky and moved to Sarafand towards the end of April 1948 after the dramatic mining of the train on April 17th when Bdr James, Gnrs Bateman and McCluskey were killed. 135 Bty was developed to provide artillery support for the Infantry of 3 Infantry Brigade whose task was to prevent the forces of IZL in Tel Aviv attacking the Arabs in Jaffa. The Infantry were suffering heavy casualties. GOC1 Infantry Division, Major General H Murray decided to shell the Jewish positions in Tel Aviv. We fired 80 rounds of 25pr right on target. and killed (according to Ben Gurion, then Mayor of Tel Aviv) 200 IZL and stopped the battle. A fitting revenge for James, Bateman and McCluskey.

Shortly after that event, 135 Fd Bty was moved out of Sarafand to Cottage Camp across the road from the main garrison. It was a neat little camp with excellent accommodation, a herd of goats and a perimeter bordered by orange groves. The scent of the blossom was overpowering. There was a Jewish settlement fairly close at hand on one side and an Arab village on the other. At night the orange groves were No Man's Land, the scene of skirmishes between jew and Arab patrols and a constant irritation for those of us trying to get a night's sleep.

Photo: nielsen

Came the night when I was Battery Orderly Officer. One of my duties was to close the Battery Canteen before Lights Out and count the takings. The Bombardier, NCO I/C Canteen and I were engaged in this routine task when, as the saying goes, all hell broke loose. Explosions on the perimeter, rifle and machine gun fire ripping through the camp, and shouts of the Battery 'Standing To'. The Bombardier and I took to the floor under the bar. 'What do we do, sir?', asked the Bombardier. 'Keep our heads down, pour a couple of drinks, and count the cash', I replied. This we did and the tumult died down after twenty minutes. A few days later we drove out of Cottage Camp en-route to Egypt."

Source: Gunners in Palestine, November 2003