In January 1946, having just turned 19, my father was dispatched to Palestine as part of the peace keeping force mandated by the League of Nations and soon to be remandated by the newly formed United Nations to try and keep some sort of peace between the Arab and Jewish populations of Palestine. With the end of WW2 with the surrender of the Japanese the previous year, pretty much to only conflict was between those peoples and the British, despite trying to persuade the Americans to join in, were left holding the baby. Their own fault really. This conflict continued with increased ferocity between the combatants until the UN broken the Partition in 1948 which no one liked and which continues to be a source of friction.
My father was a humble private who disliked both sides (though he admitted if he’d been Arab or Jewish he’d have behaved as they did) because they hated the British and he represented the oppressors as both sides saw it.
Below is one of the weekly letters dad sent mum, his then girlfriend, back then which gives you a sense of the tedium, tension and torment he endured. And, for a 19 year old, he wrote a bloody good letter, even if a little of the arrogance of youth shines through with his conflict with a Sergeant!
14908385 Pte Le Pard D.
“A” Coy 17th Battalion
Friday 17th May 1946
Greetings, light of glory. It’s a very hot afternoon, I mount guard in an hour’s time, life is just routine and I am very bored. Very bored. See the mood I’m in, not unhappy, just plain bored. At the moment everything seems to be sleeping – even the tents are drooping, nobody is moving in the company lines and the only noise is the hum of flies, crickets and God knows what other insects. It’s not warm, it’s HOT – I am sprawling in my sleeping bag under a mosquito net clad in bathing trunks, but even then you’d be surprised at the effort it takes to shove this pen along the paper. Through the tent, in the far distance, the Mountains of Ephram are comfortably hunched in a purple haze with their canopy a deep blue sky. High above the camp a hawk is hovering – no movement except for the occasional flap of its wings, and my pet tortoise is slumbering happily in my jumping jacket!
I don’t think I’ve told you about her, though, have I ? At least we think it’s a her as it gets awfully coy when approached with a piece of orange – bins its head and winks. We had a bit of a job naming her, but one of the boys finally suggested ‘Trixie’ and it stuck. Trixie by the way, is the name of a lady (!) of French descent who is the proprietress of a very dubious bed and breakfast joint in Haifa!
From the net opposite a large pair of boots ‘ankle black’ are protruding – presumably Bert is far away in the arms of Morpheus. Well, darling, now you know what an afternoon in Palestine is like. Sounds very caught, I know, but one just can’t work in this heat.
Yesterday, however, the O.C. Had one of his brilliant ideas and the company went on a route march in the hills. It wasn’t too bad up till 2 o’clock but from then until about 4 it was absolute hell. When we came back I felt as though my feet were no more. – I took what was left of my socks off and revealed a godly selection of blisters. It’s the first time I’ve had trouble with my feet since my primary training days…..
A day later…
Believe it or not it is now Saturday morning. The ruddy alarm bugle interrupted this epistle. A small riot had started in Nathanya (God knows how anyone, even Jewish terrorists, could start anything in that heat!) and we took a trip to the township in a couple of three tonners. It wasn’t much actually, just a brawl, but the local native police had got a little nervous. They soon cleared off and we returned, having done nothing but look tough and dodge a few stones. When we returned, however, we went straight on guard so I haven’t had an opportunity for letter writing until now.
The monotony of guard was broken slightly by an argument I had with the sergeant in charge of the guard. He is a dumb oaf (you know, 21 years service etc) and he had the cheek to tell me I had no intelligence. He said that if I had any intelligence at all I would have a stripe or so by now (N.B. He is still a sergeant!). When I told him that if my ignorance had been of his standard I would no doubt have reached the exalted rank of acting unpaid lance-jack he became quite heated. The result – in an hour’s time I go before the Coy Commander charged with insubordination to a Senior rank. I am not particularly worried though – I’ll get away with it because the other chaps will act as witnesses for me that he abused me. I abused him too, but they won’t say that! After eighteen months in the army I think I know how to wangle out of a charge. When I come out of this mob I think I would make a damn good criminal lawyer – on the side of the criminal of course! Actually our Coy. Commander is a decent old type – he’ll be demobbed in a couple of months and consequently doesn’t give a damn for anyone, from Generals downwards.
When are you having those photos taken, Barbs? I want to see if you still look as wonderful as you did at Christmas – I’m not kidding, honey sweet, I really am looking forward to receiving one. I don’t care what the pose is – anything from beach pyjamas to plus -fours. Although I haven’t lost my artistic appreciation for the subtle beauties of a half-clad feminine form, as long as it’s you, I don’t care if you are muffled up like Scott of the Antarctic. That’s not meant to be funny – it was meant as a very high flown compliment but it went wrong somewhere! At least I won’t make rude remarks as you did about mine.
I’m afraid it is time for lunch (such as it is) now so cheerio sweetheart. Be a good girl.
All my love