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15 October 2014
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Lidda Airport Palestine 1939icon for Recommended story

by Tom the Pom

Contributed by 
Tom the Pom
Article ID: 
A1904960
Contributed on: 
21 October 2003

I was on guard duty at Lydda airstrip and at the four corners of the air field were concrete pill boxes with a small entrance door and four rifle slits round the circular pill box situated north, south east and west.
The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders were now babysitting all Government properties.
Anyone without a pass did not get in and for that matter anyone without a pass did not get out, also we had orders not to take chances and if a sentry challenged and got no reply he had orders to shoot.
The pill box was locked on the inside when blokes were in there on duty watching for any hostile Arabs in the area that might take it into their heads to cause mischief to the property or any aircraft parked around.
There were four of us manning this box and while two would watch the other two could relax.
This stint lasted for two hours and we would then be relieved to do what we wished within the confines of the airstrip for the next four hours.
The reason for four Soldiers to man one pill box instead of the normal two was that these concrete pill boxes had four rifle slot windows that had to be manned all together to ensure the safety of the Guards inside should the boxes be attacked in the dark of night.
So it was two on and four off until the next day when a new set of Guards would take over. We could rejoin the main unit outside the airstrip and get on with living so to speak.
Of course there were other places to guard like the Nuns quarters at Stella Maris, on Mount Carmel,
This would cause ribald comment amongst the more coarse of humour.
Like “Och aye, ahm awa tae watch the penguins up on yonder hill
And “You, you, and you, get dressed, rifle en side arms, ah’m tekkin yu tu the zoo.
“Aw, come on Sarg, ah wuz ony up there twa days ago”
“Be different if there wuz ony guid lookin’ yins”
“Well yus know ‘ow it is then, don’ yus” chuckled the Sgt
“S--t”
‘What’s that?” asked the Sgt, one hand to his ear and leaning toward our mate like he was hard of hearing.
“Nuthin’ Sarg, weer’s mi’ chuffin’ bondook?” (gun)

About two o’clock in the morning I was slouching on the concrete seat.
It was cool and out of the corner of my eye I saw movement at one of the slits in the wall and with my foot I nudged my nearest mate and he looked to where I was pointing and almost fell over.
Crawling down the wall of the inside of our pillbox was the biggest centipede I had ever seen.
With a body that looked like dark brown almost black shining enamel, the light from the ceiling rippled on the moving curved plates that covered it from head to tail as it moved down the wall.
I was fascinated by the way the multiple legs on each side of the body kept perfect time.
They were like two waves rippling along either side of its body in unison, and upon reaching the end of the body they would start again at the head and the bulk of the body moved forward, but smooth like a boat on water.
The head with it’s side to side movement was like a radar dish searching for a signal, and it was receiving signals and homing in on them as it made straight for the back of the nearest bloke.
The bloke with his back to it was engrossed in a book and the centipede was homing in on his body heat and my mate said “it’s an anaconda with legs”.
The bloke with the book looked up and said in a smug voice “Anacondas don’ ‘ave bleedin’ legs.”
And another bloke who had been watching the progress of the centipede now had his bayonet out and was slowly edging toward the bloke with a book in his hand.
He said,” They duz if they gets ‘em aw chopped off”.
‘Ere” What’s your game then”, cried the bloke with the book? and snapping the book shut he stood up just as the centipede got to the warm patch of concrete our avid reader friend had just vacated.
It did a couple or turns, but unable to fid a warmer spot it ventured too near the edge of the concrete seat and fell to the floor.
I reckoned it was about sixteen to seventeen inches long and as thick as my thumb, not counting the legs.
It got stomped before it could hide.
The bloke put his bayonet away disappointed he had not been able to chop it into little bits.
The bloke with the book gawped at the now crushed centipede whose legs were still moving and went
to the toilet and requested we leave him there for fifteen minutes.
The centipede, or what was left of it was kicked into a corner, and it suddenly occurred to me, had it
been dropped in on purpose to distract us?
As I spoke my thoughts, all the blokes looked at each other then we all looked out of the slots to see if
indeed something was going down outside.
We were so keyed up for the rest of the night no one wanted to sleep, and we jumped when suddenly when the orderly Sgt banged on the door to change the Guard in the morning.

Later we learned that one of our blokes fresh out from England had been on Guard duty and he had not
tucked his trouser bottoms into his socks.
The out come of this was he leaned against a rotten gate post and probably disturbed a centipede and having been roused, it detected his body heat because of the cool night air it decided to move house to warmer climes.
It crawled up the inside of his trouser leg and it curled round the bloke’s jewels, and when the owner suddenly felt movement that was different to normal he grabbed and pulled.
But instead of the usual quick thrill he was soon walking round like a hermit crab in heat.
Looking like he had butt cheeks at the front as well as the back, the only way you could tell which way he was going was to look at his nose and feet.
He was rushed into hospital and when someone said he had been bitten by a centipede, the young Doc straight out from Blighty said “What a load of old cobblers” and “Why is your face pointing up while you are laying on your tummy?”
Giving him a fond pat on the butt, as he thought, and noticing the bloke wince, he enquired “Does that hurt” and patted him again on the swollen nuts
The bloke with the nuts cum watermelons snarled “If I sink six laceholes of my boot up your butt, du’yu think that will hurt?”
“I’ll have you know you are speaking to an Officer” grated the red faced Lieutenant.
“And I’ll have you know you are dealing with a getting p----d off bloke who—ooooo” and he winced with pain, “’as ‘ad ‘is knackers knapped by a f—n’ great creepy crawly while doin’ is
duty, awooooh.!
“An’ if yu not goin’ tu fix me, f—k off an’ let somebody do it whooooooo Jeeezus—can.
Later he told us it was so painful he was very grateful to the Nurses who pandered to his every whim, well nearly every whim.
Because when he requested one of the Nurses if he could do a dry run just to make sure they were in good nick, she told him to nick off, but she wrote an address where everyone walked about nickerless.
But warned him if the Military Police saw him there he in turn could get nicked.
When he was on Guard the next time we noticed he was wearing standard issue canvas gaiters over his boots and trouser bottoms.
And one of his mates told us later that he had taken to wearing a thumb stall with two golf ball covers attached, but not on his thumb.
We usually finished up in the canteen, and on this occasion a bloke called Brown and I were sipping a shandy while sitting discussing the trials of life in the Middle East whilst seated at a table.
An Officer was at the bar sipping what looked like gin and tonic when the door opened and a young bloke with handle bar moustache, long scarf and flying jacket sauntered in, and spotting the other Officer he piped up with , “Oh hello sir, what are you having” and the bored reply was “Hello Rodney, I’ll have a horses neck to which the first bloke chortled, “Jolly good, and I’ll have the same, leering at the bloke behind the bar.
“Yes sir” sighed the bar man and he busied himself with bottles and gave us a sideways look and his eyes went up to heaven, and one could almost hear his silent prayer of “God save us”, as we took off trying to keep a straight face.
The Control Tower always had a Guard mounted and since the Officers Bar was below the Control Tower it was below ground level so to get to it one had to go down some steps.
At the bottom of these steps was another Guard and anyone coming down the steps would be greeted by the Sentry with “Halt who goes there,” and ‘Who’ would have to answer the challenge with “Friend”.
The Sentry would then spout “Give the password” and the password would be spoken then the Sentry would say “Advance friend to be recognised” and the visitor advanced so the Sentry could indeed see who it was.
Only when the Sentry was happy with the result of his inquiries would he remove the muzzle of the .303 Lee Enfield from the face of the visitor.
On one occasion the C.O. who unfortunately was wounded in the legs in W.W.1 and walked a bit awkward decided to pay a visit to the Officers canteen, and walking down the stairs and across to the bar he turned on the Sentry and snapped “Why didn’t you challenge m?” and continued ,
“What is the point in having a sentry here if any Usef, Abdul or Mustaffa and can just stroll in, I could have been an Arab with a bomb”.
But the Sentry as quick as a flash replied “Oh, I knew it was you sir” and the C.O. asked “Oh, and how pray may I ask did you know it was me, when there is no light on the stairs to see anyone by? ”
“Well sir” replied the unhappy Sentry “I could tell by the sound of your walk”
“Anyone could copy my walk” snapped the C.O.angrily.
Then the Sentry put his foot in it, “Yes sir, but, well he’d have to have both legs broke first,” and he got
seven days Jankers (Not allowed off the base and extra fatigues) for insubordination.
On another occasion we had Sentry trouble at the Main Gate when one of our blokes came stumbling
out of the dark.
He had been in the Canteen all evening and was even now foo wi’ sherbet and Smith’s crisps and ready for bed.
But had lost his way and on seeing the Guardroom light he made a beeline for it.
“Halt, who goes there” warbled the Sentry,.
“Och it’s ony me, dinny bother.
“Password” barked the Bentry.
“Ah dinna ken wit the f—n’ passwerd es, en’ am awa tae mah bed.
“Halt or I fire” warbled the sentry now a bit uncertain.
“Ahm Whullie McLeash frae hut five fer f---k sake, an ahm away tae mah bed, d’ye no ken wa’ ahm sayin t’ye er d’ye wan’ me ti f---n’ spell it oot fer ye?”
“Gie’s a pencil an’ wee bitty paper an’ ah’l dae yuz a wee diagram, aw reet?”
Y’ken wit ah mean, ah wan’ tae f—n’ sleep, en f—n’ shoot if et wull mek yu happy, f—k yez aw.

And with that he collapsed in a heap.
The Guard was called out to carry him into the guardroom.
The next day he remembered nothing of the encounter and he was not charged.
Must have been a very understanding Sergeant of the Guard.
I heard someone say later, “Aye, that’s oor Whullie awrecht”

It is a tradition in the British army that on Christmas Day the N.C.O’s act as waiters to all the men at Christmas dinner.
So it was at Jenin camp in Palestine we were all sitting down waiting to be served in the main dining hall
Soon the usual “Oh why are we waiting” song struck up and since some had been at the sherbet a bit early the festive trough time was getting a bit out of hand. To light the fuse so to speak who should wander through the door but our beloved C.O. on his damaged legs.
Now among our motley lot we had a bloke who had not long been out of the glasshouse.
And it was our C.O. who had sent him there in the first place.
So it was no great surprise to us when all of a sudden the ex Glasshouse Walla jumped up with a bottle clutched by its top and wielding it like a club he raced toward our C.O.
However a gaggle of Sergeants forestalled his murder attempt and was soon in the cooler.
He was swiftly transported to the Guard room screaming “Ahm gonna match yer heed ter yu legs ya
spindly legged basta”.
Then a remark was made by one Sgt to the effect that his bed in the Glasshouse would still be warm.
I had taken numerous snapshots of the local terrain with a view to sending them home to let people at home know what it was like here in the Holy Land.
I had no doubt it would dispel a lot of myths because I never came across Ali Baba or any of his forty mates.
Nor did we come across any caves full to over flowing with gold and jewels and urns full of gold coins, we did stand in front of one or two big boulders and chant “Open Sesame” but nothing ever happened so we just didn’t bother anymore.
I came to the conclusion that they were just a bunch of fairy tales. However one day I wandered over to the building that was housing the Dhobi walla (Arab man who did our laundry) and another Arab who got our photos developed in Haifa, among his other enterprises.
The week previous I had put a roll of film in to this bloke.
I hoped it would be now ready for me to pick up, so I presented the little card, and sure enough the Wallad (boy) brought my pics to me.
I paid for them with paper money (10 Piastre note) and since my pics cost 250 mils I should have had 750 mils change.
The Wallad returned and handed me the pics and when I inquired about my change he went behind the screen and the boss man came out and assured me I had paid the exact amount in silver coin.
No amount of arguing would move him so I gathered I had been ripped off, I thought now here is Ali so his forty mates can’t be too far away.
Now the first thing I learned in a situation like this is not to lose ones temper.
So I walked away and thought it over and it occurred to me that I did not have any evidence.
But then I remembered the note was new so since I had just been paid the number would match other numbers that had come from that pay table only half an hour ago.
So I went over to the R.S.M and requested him to look into it.
And was pleasantly surprised when he asked me “Do you swear to me you are telling me the truth.
And I said “ Yes sir, and added my thoughts about the number on the paper money”, and he replied, “Then we don’t need to make this into an international issue and we will sort it now. “Come with me” he barked.
There was a notice on a pole that informed the reader, NO ENTRY TO SERVICE PERSONEL.
The R.S.M. pushed aside the tent flap and barged in “Where is the Boss man” and the Arab with the pipe sitting on a cane chair, looked up and said can I assist you Effendi while the other Arabs in the tent
moved to one end and one kept on doing the ironing on a table.
On seeing the Boss man again I thought of how smug he looked, and wondered how many more of our blokes had been ripped off by him.
“STAND UP WHEN I ADDRESS YOU” snarled the R.S.M.

And the Boss man said something to one of the other Arabs in the tent, but as he was about to move the R.S.M. spoke in Arabic to him and told him to stay put, and the man sank down again.
The Boss man got up and looked embarrassed, he was used to giving orders but not taking them
The R.S.M. then addressed the Boss man in English and said, “You will show me the paper money this Soldier gave to you a short time ago”
And if you argue with me we will discuss this issue in Arabic then all present will know you as a thief”.
The Boss man gave me my change and also a look of hate.
The R.S.M. assured the Boss man that should he, the R.S.M. be disturbed again, the Boss man and his tent with all his workers would not only be barred from the camp, but would be barred from any and all British camps in Palestine.
As we left the R.S.M. said to me “If I were you I’d keep clear of that place and pass it on to your mates, you can probably get ‘em done cheaper in Haifa anyway, just have to wait a bit longer that’s all.”
And with a smile he toddled off and I thought, not such a bad bloke after all.
We encountered no more hassles from the Boss man.
The Christmas dinner was a roaring success but the only fly in the ointment was that some of the blokes made life unbearable for the N.C.O’s serving dinner.
We knew that tomorrow we would have to foot the bill, foot being the operative word, they would march us rather than let us use transport just to get even, so we did not look with favour on forth coming stunts, (operations).
Also we got a few more kit inspections but it died a natural death and we soon got back to normal.
We had a look round a Lysander and a De-Haviland Dragon and one or two others that were lined up.
But apart from putting a centipede in a jam jar along side a scorpion and some blokes having a bet on the outcome, there was nothing earth shattering to talk about.

PTE BARKER T.O. 1ST ARGYLL & SUTHERLAND HIGHLANDERS.

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