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15 October 2014
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Journey to the unknown

by Action Desk, BBC Radio Suffolk

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Contributed by 
Action Desk, BBC Radio Suffolk
People in story: 
Brian Heaney
Location of story: 
Chester to Palestine via France and Eygypt
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
07 October 2005

In early July 1945 I was guard commander on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Palestine, and was busy filling out the guard report when the phone rang and I said to my L/cpl answer that, which he did and said to me 'It's for you Sarge'. I took the call and was told that I had been chosen for a 28 day leave in the UK leaving the next day.
I arranged for a replacement commander and went to pack my kit ready for the trip to Haifa docks to catch the ship sailing, as I thought, to either Liverpool or Southampton. We sailed about lunchtime and I thought 'Oh well, 14 days to get to the UK, 28 days at home and 14 days back to Palestine. How wrong can you be?
About 5 days later we docked at Toulon, southern France, and were transported by truck to Marseille racecourse where we were confronted with a heap of un-erected tents and were told to erect them and dig latrines. These tasks took us about 4 or 5 days.
We then hung about waiting for news of our impending ongoing journey which we learned a week later when we were trucked back to Toulon and disembarked at the train station and given a palliasse pillow and told to fill it with straw. We soon learned that this was to be our only comfort during a 44 hour train journey to Dieppe. The train had no windows and wooden seats, no corridor and of course no toilets but a comfort stop every 3-4 hours for food (mug of tea and a dollop of M and V stew) On arrival at Dieppe we caught a ferry to Newhaven where we were issued with our leave pass and sent on our way.
My return date was to be 4th September and I went to Chester station to enquire of the train times and a blackboard informed me thus:- 'Overseas leave train departs 16.30', and so on the 3rd September I boarded the train and settled down for a trip to Euston Station and then on to Victoria to catch the Newhaven train. We had been travelling about an hour when the Movement Control Officer came to inspect passes. When he saw mine he said 'Not on this train sergeant, we are going to Harwich nonstop' He said he would try and arrange for a stop at a north london station for me to get off and I was then on my own!
The train pulled up at Watford and off I jumped and started down the platform when I heard running feet and a voice calling 'That man, stop' which of course I took no notice of until two Redcaps caught up with me and bundled me back on the train and accused me of jumping ship as a deserter. I asked the L/cpl redcap to bring the MCO and when he saw me he said 'Why didn't you get off' to which I replied 'I did but these silly buggers wouldn't listen to my excuse'. the major tore a strip off the MP's and said he would arrange another stop which happened to be Stratford East and so I got off and from the outside of the station I had no idea how to get to Victoria and as I was returning to Palestine had very little English money but a kindly taxi driver said he would take me free of charge as a gesture of thanks and good will. The time was 8.40 pm and the train departs at 9.00pm. Oh lucky me! I arrived at Victoria in time to see the tail lights of the train leaving the station. There were about 15 others who had missed it also. The station master arranged for the Ladies waiting room to be unlocked for us to bed down in and also an early call with a mug of tea in order to get the Milk Train which left at 5.40am and stopped at every farm gate on the way to pick up churns of milk.
We arrived in Newhaven in time to see the ferry for Dieppe leaving the harbour, and so we were all posted as being AWOL. The camp SgtMajor fell us in and we had to give our excuses to the camp Commandant who assessed wether to believe us or not. Some were charged 2 or 3 days pay and some were excused as I was. We then had to get the ferry on the following day, which of course we all did.
On arrival at Dieppe would you believe the train to Toulon had gone the day before and so we were stuck in the transit camp until the next train was due. This was about 4 or 5 days. The conditions on the train to Toulon were very much improved on what we had experienced on our outward journey, at least we did have windows and seats. The trip was a little faster and only took 42 hours but upon arrival in Toulon the ship for Palastine had sailed! Onve again 'how lucky!!!' They stuck us back on Marseille racecourse and a week later we were taken to Toulon docks and sailed off down the Med but not to Haifa, but to Alexandria and trucked to Amaria transit camp. I ysed to check Pt 1 orders daily for orders to return to my unit but was stuck there for 4 weeks and told I could sign out a jeep and go and see the pyramids and sphinx. This I used to do every day and got so fed up with the sights I just wanted to get back to my unit and lo and behold Pt 1 orders said 'Report to Mt Office for transport to Alexandria station for train to haifa. Was I glad to be back although there were a lot of new faces. In all I was away for over 3 months!

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