- Contributed by
- Geoff Glew
- People in story:
- James Glew
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 14 November 2003
JAMES GLEW, Sapper, 248 Field Company, Royal Engineers
.... When our troopship anchored off the coast of Palestine, at Haifa, a host of small boats swarmed around the ship. Arab lads were diving into the sea for coins that were being thrown from the ship. Arab traders were selling all sorts of things, but mainly oranges. Well, we hadn’t seen an orange since God knows when, and so we all bought a kit bag full. We were bloody daft though, the oranges were ten for a shilling on the ship, but when we disembarked they were selling them at twenty for a shilling! .....
.... After leaving the ship, we embarked in a convoy of lorries and were driven to Cairo. What a rough journey. Most of us were hanging over the tailgate of the lorry at some point in the journey being sick. Bloody oranges! I made that round trip from Palestine to Egypt, across the Sinai desert, several times because we were employed patrolling the railway lines, roads and oil pipelines. ....
1st Division was told that it would return to Italy at the beginning of May. As the weeks passed by, however, the war in Europe was rapidly drawing to an end, and the return to Italy was cancelled. On May 8th 1945, VE Day (Victory in Europe) was marked with a Divisional Parade, at which the Prime Minister’s speech was read, followed by a short Thanksgiving Service.
.... Our main job, whilst in Palestine was trying to control the flow of immigrants into the country. The Jewish immigrants, nearly all of them illegal, were causing us no end of problems and it was our job to try and keep them out of the country. It was an ‘orrible job that got worse and worse as the Jews started shooting and bombing us ....
.... At Haifa we built de-lousing huts and pens for the Jewish refugees. The Navy brought refugee boats into Haifa, de-loused the Jews, then put them aboard ferries and shipped them across to Cypress for the time being ....
All the British troops had an extremely busy and depressing time, as the Jewish terrorists were highly resourceful, many having gained much experience in evading their Nazi oppressors. They could be disguised as Arabs one moment and British troops the next! The British were “piggy in the middle”. On the one hand the Jews wanted to leave shattered Europe and set up a new home in Palestine, whilst on the other, the Arabs were alarmed at the massive influx of Jews who were entering the country illegally. British troops had to turn away all illegal Jewish immigrants, whether they arrived by sea or over land. It was an unpleasant and thankless task. By August, the militant Zionists were increasing their activities, and their armed raids were becoming more frequent.
VJ Day (Victory Japan, August 10th, 1945) brought the Second World War to a final close. The end of the war, however, did not bring peace to 1st Division. The men didn’t like the job they had to do. The war was over and they all just wanted to go home. It was particularly unnerving, because, having survived the war, they had now become targets for terrorists. You knew where you stood with the Germans, but you didn’t know with the terrorists, who would suddenly start shooting.
.... One day our party had to ‘stand by’ a group of artillery blokes. They had got a new kind of shell and were test firing it at a distant hill side. After they had finished the trials, their officer told us to go and look for any shells that hadn’t exploded and blow them up. Well, when we got there, the hill side was covered with unexploded shells! “We’re going to be here all bloody night!”, someone exclaimed. So we just blew up a few and then went home!!....
.... I had a week’s leave in Beirut, in tents, didn’t like the city. I had a week’s leave in Cairo, in proper barracks, visited the pyramids, just outside the city, but didn’t care for Cairo itself. I liked Tel Aviv though ....
Home on Leave
Whilst the war was on, the Army had operated a scheme whereby any man who had served overseas for four years was repatriated. This was known as PYTHON, a reference to the Army eating its own tail. Towards the end of 1945, a new scheme was introduced named LIAP, which letters denoted Leave In Addition to Python. Under LIAP, any person who would have served overseas three years, before being demobilised, was to be given a short home leave. Jim was eligible for LIAP, and so in the middle of December 1945, he sailed from Port Said in an American Liberty ship. The freighter had been roughly converted to a troopship, and the accommodation was crowded for the three day passage through the Mediterranean.
.... I came home on leave from Palestine. A ship took us from Port Said, up through the Mediterranean, through the Straits of Messina, to Marseilles. From there we boarded a train that took us right through France to Dieppe. It was a long, slow journey. The train would stop every few hours, and we were given something to eat and drink. The train travelled so slowly, it was possible to get off, go to the toilet, and then run and catch it up again. The crossing to Dover was rough and stormy and most of us were sea sick. As we approached the English coast someone called out “Look! The white cliffs of Dover!”. “Bugger the white cliffs of Dover”, a voice from somewhere else groaned out....
.... I was only home for little more than a week and left again early in the New Year 1946. I went back to Palestine on exactly the reverse route ....
Spring to Summer 1946
The war in Europe had ended almost a year before, but 1st Division was still being shot at. The Internal Security duties were extremely stressful, because the Jewish guerrilla terrorist gangs were becoming even more adventurous. Attacks increased on Army camps, RAF bases, public offices, Police and railway stations. 248 Field Company suffered its first casualty killed, since first landing in Palestine, during June.
The Army had an establishment called the ‘Middle East School of Military Engineering’, which was based at Moascar in the Canal Zone of Egypt. 248 Field Company was sent there during 1946 for training exercises. The training was essential, because quite a few of the ‘old hands’ had already been repatriated, and their replacements were fresh recruits from Britain. The training was a welcome respite from the troubles in Palestine. The Company worked on a full programme of watermanship at Moascar, which included bridging and pontoon work.
.... We were once carrying out exercises on handling pontoons, and were in small boats along the bank of the Suez Canal. Shipping was passing by from time to time, and then along came a British battleship. She was huge, and towered above us in the small boats. There were three large turrets on the long foredeck. Someone said it was the Nelson ....
Back in Palestine, harrowing times were still to be had. Shortly after midday, 22nd July 1946, the Jewish terrorists planted a large bomb in the King David hotel in Jerusalem. A whole wing of the seven storey building collapsed in the huge explosion and there was a large loss of life. The King David Hotel was the most prestigious hotel in the country, and housed the headquarters of the Palestine Government. Military operations against the Jewish gangs increased. Sappers were employed to use their mine detectors to try and find hidden arms dumps.
.... I took part in dawn raids on Jewish settlements, (Kibbutz) searching for arms. The Infantry rounded up everyone, and then us Engineers used our mine sweeping detectors to try and locate the hidden stores of arms. We found one arms dump hidden beneath the wooden board walk in front of a hut. Beneath the veranda part of the hut, a large room had been excavated - it even had electric lighting, and the ventilation was via dummy rainwater fall pipes from the roof of the hut. Access was through a trap-door that had been set into a mat well ....
Overseas Duties Complete
Jim’s overseas tour of duty was completed in October 1946. On the 4th of that month he sailed from Haifa, leaving behind 248 Field Company, Royal Engineers. He had been with the Company for just one month short of four years. For the troops who were sent to Palestine, the war had taken a long time to end.
.... When my Python was over I, sailed from Haifa back to Marseilles again, and so through France and home. ....
Upon leaving the unit, the Major in command of 248 Field Company wrote the following into Jim’s service record:
Sergeant Glew has served in this unit under my command for the past three and a half years. He has been employed on and in charge of a variety of engineering jobs including work on the construction of military camps and frequently in his trade. He has shown himself to be a good and reliable plumber and pipefitter, with sound knowledge of the trade. Recently he has been in charge of the unit workshops, which he has run efficiently. He is a very intelligent, keen and capable NCO, with plenty of initiative. A reliable, conscientious and willing worker, he is completely honest, and trustworthy and sober in his habits. (Officer Commanding 248 Field Company)
After leaving Palestine, Jim was posted to C Company 3 (Holding) Depot Battalion, which was based near Salisbury. At the end of November 1946, he was posted to D Company in the same Battalion, where he served for the next four months. Jim was ‘demobbed’ and released to reserve on the Spring Equinox, 21st March 1947.
He had served with the Colours from 4th June 1942 to 20th March 1947, just under three months short of five years. His overseas service in North Africa and Italy was from 28th February 1942 until 23rd January 1945, and with the Middle East Force from 24th January 1945 until 4th October 1946.
James was awarded the following decorations: The 1939 - 45 Star; The Africa Star; The Italy Star; The Defence Medal; The War Medal, 1939 - 45.
The 1939 - 45 Star was granted for service in operations between 3rd September 1939 and 15th August 1945, the date on which active operations against Japan ceased in the Pacific. The qualifying period for the Army was 6 months in an operational command not based in the UK.
The Africa Star was awarded to the armed forces for entry into an operational area in North Africa between 10th June 1940 (the date of Italy’s entry into the war) and 12th May 1943 (the end of operations in North Africa). A silver 1 or 8 worn on the ribbon indicates service with the 1st or 8th Army.
The Italy Star was granted to those on operational service in Italy, Sicily and countries bordering the Aegean Sea at any time between the capture of Pantelleria on 11th June 1943 and VE (Victory Europe) Day 8th May 1945.
The Defence Medal was granted for 3 years service at home or 6 months overseas. In the case of mine or bomb disposal units, the time qualification was 3 months. Service to qualify for the award counted from 3rd September 1939 to 8th May 1945 in Great Britain; and to forces overseas until the end of active hostilities in the Pacific 15th August 1945.
War Medal, 1939 -45 awarded to full time personnel of the armed forces wherever they served; qualification being 28 days service. Period covered by service 3rd September 1939 to 2nd September 1945.
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