Demobbed? I finished up in Palestine!
Scunthorpe Army Man During the war the only exciting thing that was going to happen to me was we were earmarked to go the Far East. The next step was getting kitted out and going over there, but fortunately, or unfortunately rather – ‘cos I was looking forward to it – the Japs packed in. I thought: Champion! Go and see a bit of the world, but that was it. We didn’t go.
London Paratrooper When the war in Europe finished this officer came round and said “You’ll still have your chance. We’re still fighting out in Japan.” I said “Bleeding good luck to you. I don’t want to go to bloody Japan.” But then the war in the Far East packed up and we got sent to Aldershot, about the time of the Stern Gang turn-out in Jerusalem. (1)
When we heard we were being sent there, all the young kids, because by that time I was twenty-three, getting on twenty-four – all the kids about nineteen or twenty, they were going out and buying themselves bowie-knives and they were practising throwing them – how many times they could stick it in a wall, that sort of thing. I said to ’em “They’ll be a lot of good to you when you get out there. You won’t want bowie-knives, you’ll want a few hand grenades.”
They sent all the paratroopers out there. I was on the lorry, with my kit bag and everything, and as the lorry was revving up to pull out of the camp, the Company Runner came running down. Handed a note to the Sergeant. Sergeant looked round, looked up, saw me and said “Want you. Get off. Fetch your bag off.” I thought: What’ve I done now?
By this time I was married, and the wife had had a nervous breakdown. She’d heard I was going to Palestine. She was in the London Hospital and the surgeon at the hospital wrote to the whatshisname and got me taken off.
I was still in the services when a lot of my mates came back from Palestine. I was in the Naafi one day when a crowd of blokes came in. I turned round and there was some of me mates. They were saying “You was a lucky git.” “What happened?” The first night they were there they was put in a big encampment in a placed called Netanya, and it was all barbed wire ’round. First night they were there this Stern Gang got in and machine-gunned the tents. A lot got killed. They never knew what it was about.
Royal Engineer Demobbed? I finished up in Jerusalem! Helping out the Palestine Police. Now that’s the part that got me – I was called up for four years fighting against the Germans to protect the Jews. When it ended, they flew us, as an emergency, from Germany to Brussels airport to Cairo, to fight the Jews! They were killing British Palestine police.
What happened was, they changed the division over into a Flying Squad effort, being the Light Infantry Division. It was snowing when we left. We was at Knokke first, Knokke, Belgium and then we went to Brussels. They bunged us all on planes and we was away. Landed at Cairo West airport, with all our gear. They put on lorries and it took three days to cross the Sinai Desert, and we had no issue. We were still in khaki and sweating like pigs. Lips coming out like balloons. Three days.
When we got there, there was another balls-up. First job we had to do was building nissen huts to put all the extra infantry in, that was landing. I thought to myself: I don’t know – I’ve been chasing Germans for the last four years to protect Jews and now we’re chasing the Jews to protect ourselves. We was all a bit perplexed, but no one was really interested, though, in what was happening. After that sort of time you just followed orders. You woke up in the morning, someone says such and such and you say “Yeah, alright.”
We were getting up at five in the morning and stringing barbed wire all around the streets and capturing all the Jews and taking them to the detention camp. Being the RE’s we was also on explosives. It took us three months – this is laughable – it took us three months to put barbed wire around the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. We hung it around the roofs, we hung it around the doors, we hung it everywhere. Three solid months – rolls of barbed wire. One morning two milkmen walk in the door, with their white coats and a churn of explosives, stood it in the door and blew the fucking lot up. (2)
I left a couple of days afterwards, ‘cos I got compassionate posting home. The wife was in hospital. It took me fifteen days to get home.
There was a camaraderie in North Africa. There wasn’t here
Ex North African Campaign soldier These bleeding skiving so and so’s that stayed over here – maybe they crawled, or maybe they were lucky, but they thought that if somebody like me turned up from abroad, that I wanted a driving job. You’re pinching their nice cushy little number they’ve had all those years. In fact, my soldiering over here, apart from the fact that I was married, was the most miserable of my whole army time.
At first I was at Croydon. It was alright there. I could get home occasionally, but then they started to reshuffle. I thought it was too good to last. I wound up at Ashford, Middlesex. Three miles from Staines. In those days there wasn’t a London airport. It had just started.
Back in Blighty the bullshit drove you up the wall. It was ridiculous. I mean, your name goes up on Orders. You’ve been told you’ve got to scrub your kit, and you’ve got to do khaki green. So you do it khaki green. You polish your brasses. You lay it out on yer pit, ready for inspection. You’re happy with it, but your name goes up – “Driver Robson will report to Company Office. Kit was not satisfactory.” You breathe on your brasses, rub them up and take them in the Sergeant-Major. “Brought my kit in, Sergeant Major.” “Yes, that’s alright.” “Thank you, sir.” You think: stupid git. All I’ve done is breath on it and rub it with a piece of rag. You’re stupid enough to become a Brigadier. I eventually got demobbed 10th of May, 1946. I was Group 28.
I was at Aldershot when I got demobbed
London Paratrooper We was getting called in one by one and getting told “If you like to stay on we’ll make you a Sergeant.” I said “You’ll make me a Sergeant? What about three months ago? Why now? I wasn’t good enough to be a Sergeant three months ago. No mate, you can stick your bleeding army. I’ve had enough.”
We went down to Guildford to get our demob suit. You was all the same – Majors, Colonels, Captains – you was all waiting in the same place. All together. There was this Captain, he still had his tunic on, so you could see his pips, and there was this little trilby hat all alone on a shelf. I was making for it and he came round the other way, but I got there first. He said “Oh damn and blast!” I said “And damn and blast you!”
We had the old pin stripe suit, and you could keep your great coat, respirator case and socks. I remember walking down the turning where I lived with my mother-in-law, down in Stepney, carrying all me civvies gear in a big cardboard box. My soldiering days were over.
I was in one of the units that was training for the final assault on Japan
Fusilier It was the Black Watch. We’re paratroopers, we’re an airborne unit, and we were training in the jungle to maybe land in a city! When we found out this was what we were training for we were sweating blood!
When the war finished, I remember that as clear as day. I heard all the noise coming through the different parts. It was like somebody had lifted a ton weight. You didn’t realise it was there – you’d become so accustomed to it. But suddenly it wasn’t there and you say “I’m going to live now! I’m no going to die! I’m going to live!” And your outlook was completely different.
When the war was finished and we were still in the jungle they came around, a day or two after we’d heard the news, looking for volunteers to jump into prisoner of war camps, to bring in medical supplies and food – to let the lads see that the war was over and that they were thinking about them. But a lot of us knew that the Japanese were still fighting in places like that, and we didnae want to do it. A mate of mine who was a Corporal comes up to me and says “Morry, if you want to live, get the hell out of it. They’re coming looking for volunteer to jump into these different prisoner of war camps.” And you couldnae find a man in the place! Everybody had disappeared. Nobody wanted to die after the war finished.
I was medically examined for repatriation. It was discovered that because of a serious illness, connected to heat exhaustion I’d suffered, that my eyes had been affected. I was downgraded to B1 or B4, but I was warned that my demob would be more straightforward if I’d agree to being classed as A1. Lower grades, apparently, had to go through two courses of remedial treatment, which was intended to upgrade the disabled soldier before demob. Like others – not unnaturally – I chose to be upgraded to A1, in order to speed up my journey home and out of the forces. Later I learned that had I remained B4 I’d have been entitled to a war pension, and it makes me wonder how many blokes got this treatment to save the authorities money.
Prior to repatriation we were sent to special education class which took the form of brainwashing. They were trying to prepare us for our homecoming. They were telling us we shouldn’t be resentful when we found that our people back home just weren’t interested in the war, or who had won it, or what you’d done, or where you’d been. They were too busy getting on with normal everyday living.
When I did get home, and I came off the train at Central Station and went to Hope Street to get myself a bus – loaded up with kitbags and God knows what, piled on top of my shoulders – despite the fact that I had been demobbed, had a demob suit and all the rest of it – I just couldnae get a bloody bus! Everybody jumped in and passed me to get on the bus. I was so angry about the whole situation that I walked the whole bloody road home rather than suffer the indignity of having to fight to get onto the bus. Nobody cared an arse about the home-coming soldier, or the veteran with his medals. Maybe that was to the good. People were totally disinterested. The show was over.
1. The Stern Gang was the name used by the British and others to describe the Zionist terrorist group Lehi “Fighters for the Freedom of Israel”. It was led by Avraham Stern, and at first was ideologically fascist, then became bolshevik. It was founded after a split within Irgun (see below) in 1940.
2. Bomb attack on 22 July, 1946 by the right wing Zionist terrorist group Irgun. The King David Hotel was the headquarters of the British administration in Palestine. Ninety people were killed.