gallery Palestine – July to November 1938

Nablus camp The French have a saying which roughly translates, "The more things change, the more they stay the same".

"Nablus". A city whose name recurs often during the Arab / Israeli conflict, and it was in the vicinity of Nablus that the 1st Battalion Irish Guards were encamped in July 1938. Nablus is in the province of Samaria – from whence came the Good Samaritan.

The world has changed a great deal between 1938 and 2005, but apropos the French saying above, the conflict that was prevalent in Palestine when I served there has continued throughout the intervening years, and the spirit of charity displayed by the Good Samaritan has long been conspicuous by its absence.

Village Garrison, Sildet Camp life at the base of a rocky Samarian hill was somewhat austere. There was no notion of going for a stroll into Nabulus and popping in to a bar for a cold beer. The open-air cinema and swimming pool were back in Kasr-el-Nil in Cairo. However, there was a building at the foot of the hill facing the camp which was occupied by the Palestine Police, which was reputed to be on the site of a Roman fort and contained a small bath. The police said we were welcome to use it. Unwisely, I decided to visit, and eager for even a short swim I jumped in. Shock, horror, I was engulfed by the most freezing water I had ever encountered which, I was convinced, could only have originated by some circuitous route from the North Pole.

On Patrol Needless to say, the so-called Roman bath was not re-visited. Not that we had much spare time anyway. Our days were spent largely on patrols, either by road transport or across country, and for the latter the battalion had been allocated a number of donkeys for the carrying of ammunition, water and rations. For one patrol I was put in charge of a donkey I christened Freddy, for the simple reason that in Ireland my Aunt Agnes owned a donkey called Freddy.

Freddy and I ambled sedately along on patrol until, eventually, we arrived at the foot of the steepest, rockiest hill so far encountered, and here Freddy halted, gazed at the prospect ahead, gave a little groan, and sank to the ground. Having reported Freddy's insubordination and refusal to continue, I was told to carry on Freddy-less.

Searching for weapons However, cross-country patrols usually had non-military personnel as guides, who were more knowledgeable regarding recalcitrant donkeys than we. A little heap of dried grass strategically placed and a lighted match was, reputedly, extremely effective.

Whether this solution was applied to Freddy I never knew, but my own feeling when I left him was, that he'd given up the ghost, with the firm intention of going on no more patrols.

In November 1938 the battalion returned to England to be stationed at the Tower of London.

None of us imagined, that in little more than a year after service in the scorching heat of the Western Desert and the barren hills of Palestine, we would be soldiering in Norwegian snow.

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