- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Harold George Cooper.
- Location of story:
- Northern Ireland to 62 CRE al-Jiyya Palestine.
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 20 January 2006
My friend Mike from Hornchurch on the right and myself Harold on the left. Picture taken at 62 CRE al-Jiyya.
Aftermath of the war via Northern Ireland to the Middle East.
In 1945 on the 9th October I was called up for service. I remember travelling to Carlisle on a train with my small case. When the train arrived it was very dark and I waited out side the station. Soon a lorry drove up and a voice shouted out ’ Are you for the camp.' I said ‘yes’ and scrambled up the tail gate at the rear and we were on our way. Our destination was a transit camp. When we arrived the camp was in darkness except for the chap at the gate. He showed me where to get something to eat. After this he said ‘your in that hut over there.' So I went over and opened the door, in the darkness I felt my way along the rows of cast iron beds and found one that was empty. I climbed in and laid there in my civilian clothes. When morning came I found all the other lads were in the same position. We stayed at the camp for one day. Early the following morning at about 5 am we boarded lorries in the dark and set off. Eventually we were told to disembark and boarded a small underground train that smelt of fish! We were on this for some time and arrived at Stranraer at the side of the docks area. We were then herded in to a large cook house, where we received some porridge and a rasher of bacon.
This time we were all herded on to a rusty tramp steamer that set off for Larne in Northern Ireland, the sea was rough and we were all very sick. We arrived and were all assembled and told to board some army trucks near by for transit to the primary training camp (PTC) at Ballykinlar County Down. On arrival we were issued with our uniforms and undertook vigorous training for about 2 months.
An amusing event occurred when I had to attend the army mobile dentist. I was on manoeuvres at the time and covered in mud having crawled threw various ditches and obstacles etc. I arrived at the dentist and he attended me without comment! On my arrival back at the hut they all wondered where I had been? And some thought I had deserted. It was all sorted out in the end!
Back to England.
After our training we came back to England via the SS Empire Cross to Southampton and attended various camps, the last one being Aldershot. During my time at Aldershot I was detailed with some other lads to guard the detention barracks (the glass house). The prisoners had rioted the day before, when we got there and entered the guard room we found lots of bibles had been thrown out of the windows and the floor was covered in water and soup. The prisoners had turned the large soup containers over and this was all over the floor. The cell doors had been removed and thrown down on to the wire netting that protected the guards underneath. Thankfully the prisoners had been taken else where!
Journey through France to Alexandria and Almazah.
After my spell at Aldershot we went via Dover by boat to Calais, then to Talon by train. The train had previously had its boiler machine gunned by the Germans during the war and this made the journey longer due to the loss of steam. On our way the train stopped at the side of the track and we all got out. There was a clearing in a vine yard where three French ladies were dishing out soup from three huge caldrons with large ladles. We offered up our mess tins and were also given a slice of bread. We then returned to our train to finish our meal. Soon we were on our way. When we arrived at Toulon we saw lots of boats that had been sunk by the British during the war to stop them being used against us. We were then taken to another transit camp where we were all issued with bush hats we thought we would be going to the far east.
When morning came our bush hats were all taken away! We were all rather relieved, this meant we would not be going to the far east. The boat we had to get on could not get in to the docks because of all the ships that had been sunk, so we were taken out to our ship by a small motor boat. When we got to the ship (the SS Chitrell) we had to climb on board via scramble nets. This was not an easy job with full kit on! Eventually we steamed away stopping at Gibraltar and Malta on our way. We then found out that we were going to Alexandria in Egypt. Whilst on our way we saw some porpoises that travelled along side and a whale out at sea. The ships propeller then decided to fall off as we neared Alexandria. However the ship had a spare lashed to the rear of the boat. The spare propeller was winched over the boat which proved rather difficult. All the time this was going on we were drifting in to a mine field. I could see them bobbing up and down in the water! However the propeller was duly attached. The journey lasted about 2 to 3 days or more.
An amusing incident that occurred during my voyage, was the time I awoke during a storm. From my hammock I saw the door of a cupboard open and all the plates in side came out on the table like a pack of cards then slip back in with the doors closing behind them. The ship was like the Mary Celeste. I went to find out where my colleagues were and on climbing up the ladder to get on deck found my self slipping and sliding about. I soon found out that this was sick and my colleagues were all being sea sick over the side.
We eventually arrived at Alexandria and marched directly to Cantara transit camp. The camp consisted of tents. We stayed there for about a day and our time was mostly taken up by parades etc: Whilst here I was sent 3 times by the Sergeant Major to get my hair cut. On the third occasion the Sergeant Major came with me. The barber said ’ If I take any more hair off this man he will have none at all!‘ After a time it was agreed by all that my hat was too small and I was given another hat!
Another comical occurrence at this camp was when one of the officers put his dog on a charge and it could only eat bread and water! I was then sent to Almazah camp near Cairo for 3 days for posting.
At Almazah I was sent to get my bed. This took the form of two planks of wood, two bed irons and a mattress case. The mattress case had to be filled with straw from a hut. The straw must have been there for many years and was full of dust and disinfectant powder that formed huge clouds. On leaving this had to be returned to the hut. I also particularly remember this camp at dinner time when we came to empty our mess tins. There were some vultures standing on the rim of a large oil drum used to collect the waste food. They would just sit there and we all used to pour our mess tin slops over their heads. What a sight they were! In this part of the country the soldiers were referred to by the locals as Jock. I think previously the Scottish must have been here.
The Grotto and posting.
Our army pay was now due and we all had to line up and enter a small hut with a tiled roof. Just to the right hand side of the hut was a fire extinguisher. Some of the lads were mucking about and this was knocked to the ground and duly started to spray all over the hut making it look like a Christmas grotto! The officer in charge in side was totally oblivious to this. I think he must have thought the smiles as each of us saluted, was due to the fact we were receiving our pay. After this I was posted to 62 CRE in Palestine. This involved a train journey along the side of the Sues Canal and passed a prison. I can remember seeing all the inmates pushing their arms and hands out between the bars on the windows. A couple of times the train stopped and all sorts of Arabs selling eggs, bread, lemonade and of all things Polar ice. I have no idea where they got this. A small boy would turn up in the middle of the desert from behind the sand dunes with this in a sack on his back! They would always refer to the English soldiers as Johnny?
62 CRE Palestine.
When I arrived I found that 62 CRE consisted of about 10 men and a Captain Baxter. Here I was put in charge of the terrazzo and electrical goods. This was located in a vast store and railway yard. Here we all had ten Arab workers allocated to each of us. When we were short of workers we could call on some German and Italian prisoners for help. After a time I was promoted to Corporal.
One day whilst on guard duty. I was standing looking out at the desert and almost from no where rather like emerging from a mirage came a rider on a beautiful Arab Stallion. He sat there and we looked at each other. He looked like some thing out of the past much like an Arabian knight. The horse had armour on the front of its head and the rider was dressed in chain mail with a turban on his head. I did not move and after I had taken it all in, he spurred his horse and sped off in to the desert. I could only think he may have been a despatch rider because he had two cases on his horse, perhaps for an Arab Sheik.
Raid on bakery.
We were called out one night because the bakery had been taken over by Arab militants and surrounded. We had to call for assistance form Haifa. They sent some tanks and after some time the Arabs were dispersed. The following morning we found out from some of our Arab labourers that some of their relations and friends had been wounded. My friend a very religious man (Brian Meadows) at the time was writing a book on the Palestine situation. I often wonder if he ever had it printed?
After collecting our rations from the Haifa area we headed back to our base at al-Jiyya on our way we noticed some thick black fog like smoke and some 56 gallon oil drums burning in the road. We were then shot at from both sides with automatic weapons. I shouted in my best Arabic and the shooting stopped. After we had stopped some men then walked toward our truck. My driver then put his foot down and we knocked over a couple of the oil drums and sped off towards our camp at al-Jiyya near Gaza.
Cross fire and birthday.
During the evenings we were fired at by the Jews and Arabs who used to take pot shots at each other across the valley our camp was situated in. On one occasion I was celebrating my 19th birthday. We had walked over to the Polish camp at Barbara near by as our camp had very few facilities. We ate some German sausages washed down with some Polish vodka. After this whilst staggering back to our camp we were confronted by some of the Arab Legion guards that were grading our camp entrance. They shouted out halt in Arabic and being rather trigger happy started to fire at us. We then dived in to a ditch near by and when it had calmed down came out. They were very sorry and said they thought we were Jewish terrorists. We all ended up laughing. On the whole the Arab Legion did a fine job of guarding our camp. However on Saturday nights they would always have a party that went on till the early hours of the morning and kept us all awake!
Attempt to blow up the South Palestine high octane fuel depot.
One night an attempt was made to blow up our fuel depot. During the day the gate keeper had allowed a lorry in thinking that it was one of ours but after checking with the office this did not tally. A search was made and time bombs were found ready to blow the camp up. These were then defused and made safe. This happened at about the same time as the bombing of the King David’s Hotel in Jerusalem.
Return to England.
Our period of service had now come to an end and we had to pack our personal kit etc: We travelled back to Alexandria by lorry where we boarded the SS Ordooner. We came back via Malta and Gibraltar and then on to Liverpool. I can always remember my arrival at Liverpool because one memory always springs to mind. That being the amount of dead cats floating in the harbour. I thought this rather strange! After we disembarked we were taken by lorry to a Transit/Demob camp on the outskirts of Liverpool. There we were told that our demob attire was not ready yet. To kill time we were allowed to walk in to Liverpool and explore the city. On our return we were given a meal and issued with our demob suits and travel warrants. Our uniforms were handed back and I made my way home to Romford by train.
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