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- 11 September 2005
( Continued from part 3 )
My Story by Jeff Brereton ( Part 4 ) 32 Squadron, Palestine.
March 45 Arrived in Palestine having travelled via Alexandria and Cairo the Pyramids and the
Sinai desert arriving at Ramat David an aerodrome in the desert between Haifa and Nazareth and in the shadow of Mount Carmen. I was in the advance party having travelled about 250 miles by road across Egypt and Palestine.
As fighting was taking place between the Jews and Arabs it was the Squadrons Role
to locate the Terrorist Factions ( one such organisation was Urgan Svai Leiumi ) and pass on the information to the Army and Palestine Police, a British Organisation. Palestine was then a British Protectorate and here we were in the middle of another political struggle which meant we were piggy in the middle and hated by both organisations. This turned out to be our most fearful operation as we were
vulnerable to both organisations who were using Terrorist Tactics and the Army
suffered many atrocities from both sides.
Whilst at Ramat David I was amongst seven Ground Staff who were sent on a mission into Syria.
We did not know what the mission was or where exactly we were going. We knew it could be somewhat hazardous as the truck in which we were to make the journey had the Union Jack painted all over it and had two large Union Jack flags on the front wings. We had also to take our arms and ammunition with us for self defence. We first made our way to Tripoli a Port on the Mediterranean coast and then on to Aleppo on the Turkish border. We kept picking up travel instructions as we journeyed on. Our journey was uneventful until we reached a point south of Aleppo where approaching a hill we encountered a Landrover approaching from the front. The landrover was British and the occupants warned us to be careful as we carried on as there was fighting going on up ahead and although it would be safe for us we were to drive slowly and we were advised to hide our arms and ammunition. Further along the road we were approached by a lorry with a fighter standing on the side, he motioned to us to follow him and as we approached a village ahead the fighting stopped. We continued on through the village and when we reached the other side our escort left us and returned, after which we heard the shooting continue. We arrived at Aleppo without further incident and reported to the Army Barracks. We stayed at Aleppo for two days and were warned not to venture into the town. Being on the Turkish Border it was known as a notorious place for thieves and cut throats.
After two days we were on our way again this time though with an escort of an army armoured vehicle. After passing a few arabs in mud huts we never saw anything else other than telegraph poles across two hundred miles of desert. It was evening when we were approaching our destination and were met by an Army Sergeant in a Landrover. We were instructed to camp there for the night, clean up in the morning and we would be escorted into De Re Zor on the Commandants Orders. De Re Zor being a town on the Euphrates river on the borders of Syria and Iraq. Because of the intense heat there the Army Garrison was mainly of Sikh personnel as they were more able to stand the temperatures which were of a constant 104 degrees centigrade. We were taken to the French Foreign Legion Barracks just outside town with the name Lt Khan Kara above the entrance (This same Foreign Legion Barracks I saw featured in a book about the French Foreign Legion which I read back home in England) and shown to the Camel Sheds. We did not last long there and found a hut that was occupied by a Frenchman who had a first world war aeroplane in which he had flown to Damascus and lobbed bombs out from the cockpit. This was the third Political war that we were involved in as on this occasion the fighting was between the French and Syrians and we could hear shooting taking place in the town, Our army friends told us it was terrorists and they were shooting at each other from the flat roofs of the buildings. Syria was then a French Protectorate and the Syrians were struggling to gain control.
We were told that our mission was to create a landing strip as an advanced base in the desert on which our aircraft flying from Palestine could land and refuel before continuing their patrol. We achieved this by travelling over the Euphrates River into Armenia where there was a plentiful supply of white stones which we were able to use to identify the spot by arranging them into a circle with number 101 in the centre and creating a flag pole with a windsock on it to enable our pilots to observe the wind direction for landing. The sand base was very firm so no other indication was necessary. 101 being the number of the landing strip for identification by our Pilots. We were advised not to venture into the town of De Re Zor as ammunition was flying around indiscriminately so our only contact with the outside world was by our own aircraft and a supply aircraft that could only fly in the evenings when the temperatures were low which meant only one journey per day was possible. Our Stay was most uncomfortable as the heat was so difficult to combat , we were of course
used to the heat in the desert as we all had a good tan. Wearing of clothes however became unbearable as perspiration soaked everything. There was an aircraft hanger which provided some shelter from the sun and which also contained our drinking water supplies which were in large Grecian type urns that kept it ice cold. Because of the extreme heat our tour of duty was supposed to be for seven days only and although our replacements arrived we were unable to leave firstly they arrived a day late and priority was given to a soldier who was suffering from heat stroke and there was insufficient room on the aircraft for all of us. On the ninth day although we set off the pilot had to turn back because the aircraft was carrying too much weight and could not gain sufficient height to fly over the Syrian Mountains. As it was too late to make a second attempt ( the Pilot would only attempt the flight in daylight ) we were obliged to stay another day . We did however manage to get away on the tenth day and we all held our breath as the old Avro Anson aircraft managed sufficient height to clear the mountains and we landed safely in Tripoli.
I received Marina’s first letter a month after leaving Greece and thereafter at regular intervals.
At Ramat David we spent much of our leisure time at a N.A.A.F.I. in Nazareth where
we were able to visit all the holy places which was quite an experience . We also became very adept at playing snooker and table tennis although our highlight was the egg sandwiches that were steeped in oil served up to us by the N.A.A.F.I. staff. The Squadron had good Cricket and Football teams and we had some good matches with both the Palestine Police and various Army Units. We had regular cinema shows and the pre film music always finished with the Glen Miller favourites September Song and In the Mood. Haifa was a popular town and I sent home a number of souvenirs from there.
Our next move was to Peta Tiquva an aerodrome outside TEl- A-Viv. TEl- A -ViV being a modern city built with a lot of help from the Americans was an eye opener for us. To see the Jewish people basking themselves on the glorious beaches and enjoying the night life as if there was no conflict at all. At Peta Tiquva we found life more constrained in that a perimeter fence encircled the aerodrome and a Jewish Kibbutz was on one side adjacent to our Squadron area and we soon found out that the occupants of the kibbutz were hostile to our presence. At first our aircraft were left in the dispersal area and we provided our own guards during the night. On one such night it was my turn to check the perimeter fence to see that the gates opposite the Kibbutz were secure. This meant walking through high grass in the dark for about
100 yards to the fence. The outward journey was uneventful but on my way back I was convinced that I was being followed, I could hear footsteps in the grass and each time that I stopped the footsteps also stopped and what a relief it was to return to the guardhouse. Was it a person following me or was it one of the wild dogs that were native of the area we never knew and no one else reported such an incident. It was decided that the aircraft were too close to the Kibbutz and that it might be safer from attack to disperse the aircraft at night along the runway where they would be patrolled by army personnel in Armoured Cars, this however was not entirely satisfactory as hostile Jews presumably gaining access via the Kibbutz crept on to the aerodrome during the hours of darkness and proceeded to blow up our aircraft with gelignite explosives placed in the air intakes.
As the war in Europe ended in June 1945 we were becoming extremely agitated as we were involved in policing a Civil War which we felt was non of our business and were hoping to be repatriated home. This was not to be and as more and more Jewish people were coming to Palestine the violence was escalating and we were in the middle of it, By day we were able to venture out into the town and to Tel- A- Viv
we also had trips to Jerusalem and Bethlehem but at night we returned to what we considered was the relative safety of the aerodrome. The Army personnel and the Palestine Police patrols were suffering terrible atrocities at the hands of the Terrorists
and we were constantly warned by those in the Kibbutz to keep the aerodrome in darkness at night and not to venture out of our huts. Any movement or the showing of a light brought a hail of machine gun fire from the sentry posts in the Kibbutz accompanied by warnings over the Tannoy System as to what the consequences might be. In other words we were told that if we kept our heads down and did not interfere with their operations we had nothing to fear, which we considered to be somewhat real threats.
Christmas was no exception although we managed to make the most of the day with a good Festive meal being confined to our wooden huts left very little to do other than to eat drink and sleep within the constraints and as can be expected the drink
took over. Fortunately we were not short of supplies as we had stocked up beforehand and we constructed our own Gremlins Bar to which we invited our colleagues.
The year 1946 continued the same as 1945 with no immediate chance of repatriation
and we continued to receive the same answers to our questions,there were always
others who had a greater priority than we had. The attacks on British troops were increasing in violence and as terrorists are an unknown enemy they may masquerade as ordinary citizens during the day and revert to terrorist activities at night it was becoming hazardous to venture far from the assumed safety of the aerodrome and at times we were forbidden from leaving the base.
Fortunately Marina kept up a constant supply of letters which were eagerly awaited and I ensured an ample return. What with the continuing Civil War in Greece and an uncertain future for me when I returned to England I began to have misgivings as to whether we would ever have the opportunity to meet again.
Squadron Personnel started to have interviews regarding our future and offered the option of remaining where we were, a posting to the far east or of course repatriation. I can not remember anyone applying for the former we all wanted to leave Palestine as fast as we could. It was on such an interview and talk from an officer of the Fire Service that I considered that it offered a secure future. As I had become very accustomed to a uniformed service I considered applying for either the Fire Service or the Police on returning to the UK.
March 1946 We finally received the word that we would be going home and demobbed from the
Air Force. Our leaving was not without incident as no sooner than we had embarked on a Train for Port Said in Egypt we were hastily taken off it again. We later discovered the reason, that night the train was blown up. We did make a satisfactory journey on another day without incident and after embarking on a Troopship at Port Said we had a pleasant journey through the Suez Canal on to Alexandria and through the Mediterranean to Marseilles. We then received our documents to travel by train to Dieppe and across the channel to Newhaven. Back in England again after three and a half years away. Our next journey was on to Hednesford in Staffordshire where we handed in our R.A.F. uniform kitted out in a civilian suit and sent home on leave.
29-4-46 Discharged from the R. A.F. and sent home on leave with an official demobilisation
date of July 1946 exactly six years after joining.
Marina and I kept in touch by regular correspondence and in October 1947 Marina managed to obtain a flight to England and we were married on the 6th of December, three years after we first met.
Marina’s arrival was not without incident,I had arranged to meet her at London Airport and having waited all day with airport officials scanning every passenger list,after the last plane had landed I reluctantly had to return home.
The next day I received a telegram to say that Marina had arrived safely and was staying with a friend of the family in Belgrave Square London.The plane that she was travelling on had an unscheduled overnight stop in Rome and she had landed the next day not at london airport but at R.A.F. Northolt. With no one to meet her she turned to plan ‘B’and caught a taxi to the address she had been given for Just such an emergency.The next day I caught a train to London and we were finally reunited at Euston Station.
I truly believe the nickname Lucky given to me by my friends was justified.
( Conclusion of story ).
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