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Sarafand Rest Camp

by Tom the Pom

Contributed by 
Tom the Pom
People in story: 
1st A. & S.Highlanders
Location of story: 
Palestine
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A3435725
Contributed on: 
22 December 2004

SARAFAND REST CAMP PALESTINE 1939

Different Companies of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders did Guard stints and stunts, and operations that many succumbed to in Jenin, Tulkarm, Haifa, El Kuds, Um il Fahm, Nablus, and Jerico near the Dead Sea.

A stint was about three months in any one place in time and a stunt was the slang word we used when referring to, “Going bush”or “Operation” to hunt the baddies or having to, “Stand to” in case a Palestine Police action got out of control and needed armed assistance.
We also used a word that rhymed with stunt, for anyone of us who tripped up over a fallen log in the dark, especially if we were trying to creep up on some sleeping baddies in the black of night.
Mind you, there were not many black nights out in the wilds of Palestine because when the “Milky way” and the moon, when it was up, and the stars that were twinkling like someone had left the light on all night in the jewellers shop window, it illuminated the dark blue velvet hours real good.

Sometimes a cloud would race by the moon and the shadows would race across the sand and seem to leap over the bushes and one could hear the sudden click of safety catches on the Lee Enfield rifles we carried at the ready as the more wary of us would react to the sudden movement of the shadows that appeared to be racing towards us and glimpsed out of the corner of an eye.

We assisted the Palestine Police in their duties by arresting anyone who broke the law.
The people we were called in to control or arrest were usually well-armed thugs, who on horse back would sneak into a village n the moon light and kidnap the Headman of a village and his family for ransom to further their cause, which was robbing anyone who just happened to be handy.
But once the ransom was paid they cut the throats of their victims so they could not finger said villains later when they were eventually apprehended.

One bandit we apprehend thinking he was about to die indeed gave us information
that implied someone in Palestine was offering money to anyone in Syria who would come over the border and stir up trouble for the Jewish settlements.

We knew them as, “The Palestine Freedom Fighting Group” which later became known as The P.L.O. (Palestine Liberation Organisation.)
Someone having read some of my yarns about Palestine wrote to me and informed me that, “The P.L.O. was not formed until later in the 1940’s”
I would venture to point out that a potato is also known also as a spud, until some bright spark decided to invent new ways of cutting it up and cooking it.
It then became known as a chip, a crisp, mash, or just starch, however, sliced, mashed, or fried, no matter how it is cut, cooked, and served, it remains the humble potato.

So too the people who now wanted Palestine all to themselves had not been interested in what had been an inhospitable piece of land near the sea since time began until some people who had nowhere else to go settled on it and due to their diligence and hard work began to grow orange trees etc.

Then the light was switched on for the many who observed the few were making life more tolerable by tilling and watering the land and making life more pleasant and of course it is the same old story, once someone digs a well everybody else decides they have a right to use it without doing a hands stir.

The reason some of the Syrian baddies were now taking hostages was because they were not getting the promised pay off so they decided to resort to kidnapping any of the local village head men.

For us the chasing up and down hills looking for these baddies was not a pleasant pastime in the heat, especially when loaded down with two pouches filled with ammo and a water bottle banging away on one’s butt as one breaks into a gallop.

Carrying a loaded rifle in one hand and wafting the plague of flies with the other from ones face there isn’t any wonder most of us although very fit needed some clean water and a nappy change after two hours of poking round bushes, climbing over and poking the blind spots behind boulders and being wary of snakes and other creepy crawlies.

After months of being sniped at from the far distance and some of our lads being picked off on escort duties while escorting Officers in P.U. trucks to Jerusalem,
and dispatch riders on motor cycles being decapitated due to riding between two trees that had a fine steel wire stretched neck high between them and across the road,
it wasn’t long before some one decided we could do with a bit of a rest.

The wire across the road trap led to all vehicles being fitted with a sword like steel blade being fitted to the front end of all vehicles, and after testing it proved very effective and did indeed cut the fine steel be-heading wire and the people responsible ceased this activity but the steel blades stayed fixed to the front most motor transports.

Then the powers at the time thought to make life a little more pleasant for us and since there was a place that was already built but needed tidying up a bit and they could get it for nothing, they chose it as a Camp where we could rest and relax.

The down side was that any Regiment taking up the offer of a free holiday there had to tidy it up, or rather anyone relaxing there could if they felt like it, do it up to make it more acceptable and it would cost nothing but a bit of effort from those who were staying there, “Relaxing”.

My Father’s comments sprang to mind as I print this, “Tha dusn’t get owt fer nowt in this werld, tha’s gotta werk fer it!.”

But I do remember fondly the rest camp called Sarafand.

From the distance it looked like an old fort we now see in cowboy movies.
But it was close to the sea and on reading the daily orders that were a must still, all the other rigours of Army life were relaxed.
There were only three bugle calls that had to be obeyed , one was, “ Theres a fire” the others were, “Alarm” and, “Stand to at the double”

The bugle calls, “Revallie, Retreat, Cookhouse, and Mail Call had all been cancelled and we got up when we felt like it, trickled over to the mess hall when we got hungry for chow, and more or less just did as we wished for what turned out to be a boring existence until a truck turned up one day with an armed escort, and to our delight it not only delivered some mail from home but also some footy gear and in no time at all we had a game going down on the beach.

We had to move further up the beach away from the waters edge since if the ball just happened to get kicked into the sea and the under tow would grab it and the next time we saw the ball it was heading for the open sea and Italy as it was blown by the breeze.
One bloke who began to swim after it suddenly turned and headed back for shore and as he crawled out panting he gasped, “ Bugger the ball, ah seed a fin in the watter”
Someone else warbled, “There ain’t no sharks around ‘ere mate”
And our mate spat, “O.K. you want the ruddy ball you go fetch it back”
By this time the ball is a mere dot in the distance and can only be seen when it is lifted by a wave.

It was bandied about amongst the know it alls among us that Sarafand Camp had for some years been a camp where people who were sick and had to be isolated were installed and forgotten about until some relitive of friend having not seen or heard from them for months decided to enquire about them.

Sarafand camp had been empty a long time since a new hospital had been built near Haifa and all the inmates of this desolate place had been moved there, and it came to pass that one day some bright lad suggested it would make an ideal out of the way place for a holiday camp for the Army.
He must have been overheard by some Officer who had the welfare of his lads at heart and probably mentioned it at dinner in the Officers mess, and the C.O. would muse on it, and then take it to the Brigadier who would get a pat on the back for coming up with such a splendid idea.
Apparently neglected for some time the Army suddenly decided to use the place as a rest camp and being miles away from anyone else it seemed the ideal place for the weary sodjer ti lay doon his heed for a bit o’ shush and relaxing.

The down side to this place was that it was like being the only people on the far side of the moon from one day to the next.
But the up side was we could get up in the morning when we felt like it and since we were all living in cottage tents we could run down the beach stark naked and plunge into the sea.

Someone came up with another football and soon we had a game going on the beach.
Then another company joined us and we suddenly had three more spare footballs.
But that night it was painful going to bed because what had been normally covered up most of the time had now got red with sun burn so it was like doing a rumba in bed to know how to get comfy.

The mess hall was a wooden hut with a latticed door that had a fly screen door one had to also open to gain entry.
But the flies still got into everything.
The butter was put on each table in our mess but after about an hour it looked like thin yellow oil paint with flies doing the Australian swim crawl in it.

Every time the fly screen door banged shut again as someone entered or left, every head would jerk erect to scan the newcomer just entered or to check that the door was tight shut to stop more flies entering.

If someone had just left and the door and it was not closed properly someone would go close it and scream after the offender, “Wuz yo born in a field, yu pilluck!”

But if the bloke was coming in, the blokes already sitting there would wait until he sat down enquiring, “Weers the butter then?” he would be offered two or three saucers of the rancid butter with flies still struggling in them.

Out on the sand one day I joined in with about twenty of the blokes kicking the ball.
Some were naked and running about like chocolate coloured Zulus while some newcomers were in the nutty and appeared to be wearing pink swimming trunks.

No one was wearing footwear and in bare feet we were like a bunch of kids at the seaside.

Until the ball got kicked near to one of the armed Sentries that had been posted each end of the beach.

I ran after the ball but the Sentry also arrived where the ball finally stopped bouncing and in trying to get the ball he stepped on my foot with his hobnailed boots and ripped my big toe nail off.

I came out of the medics tent with a swollen foot to cries of, “Who’s a lucky boy?”

The M.O. had told me not to get it wet and come back in two days time.
I reported two days later and thought I was going to lose my toe, it had got so painful and swollen.

For the next week I was keeping out of everyone’s way and the toe ached and itched and pulsed and wept.
Then one day I was down by the beach and without thinking I just ran into the sea after one old soldier argued, stuff the M.O. go and have a good swim, y’nivver see a bluddy fish weerin’ a bandage!”

That evening when I reported to the M.O. he unwrapped the foot and beamed, “Now that’s much better” as he prodded the now normal sized toe.

Then one day as we were laid relaxing in our tents and the breeze was just coaxing the heat through the holes in the roof due to the walls of the tent being rolled back to each corner and tied.

With a panoramic view of our surroundings one lad writing a letter home suddenly looked up and yelped, “Bloody ‘ell Bandits!”

Everyone froze for a moment then looked to where our mate was staring.
About three hundred yards away a long column of armed Arabs on horses were
seen to be emerging from behind the dunes, and on reaching the beach veered to their left and were now walking towards us, and as they got nearer we observed the Lee Enfield rifle slung over the shoulder of each horseman and the leather bandoliers of .303 ammunition.
Some also had long swords on the saddles of their horses.

A voice warbled, “Sit still and don’t make a move”

Another voice suggested hoarsely, “Some bugger aught ti get the key ti the rifle rack”
But the voice warbled back again, “Sit still and shut up, let them make the first move”

The bloke writing the letter home began to speak as he was writing, “Dear Mum if yu dinnie get this letter it’s ‘cos ah hev jist hed me throat cut by sum wanderin’ wogs oan ‘ossis. Luv Jimmy.”

It was watching like a silent movie until time turned on the sound and we could now could hear the thud of hoofs on the sand getting louder and louder as the mounted group of about thirty Arab horsemen drew ever closer.

We watched them and they in return observed us, and then they were going by us and ignored us as if we were part of the landscape.

They went by us so close to our nearest tent by the track that if someone had stuck out his foot the horses would have stomped it flat.

The hot sun beat down and the flies collected on faces that seemed frozen in time and it was only when the horsemen had disappeared from view behind a far sand dune that hands began swatting at the flies again and voices were raised asking, “Who the hell were they then?”

We found out later that the mounted Arabs were in fact part of The Arab Legion and commanded by Glubb Pasha.

Tom Barker.

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