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- Peter Faggetter
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- 05 June 2004
With the WAR commencing at the height of the fruit season, when apples and plums were here there and everywhere, with damsons and gooseberries filling the jam jars with any spare sugar, and gorgeous pears getting into shape to lubricate your teeth and tonsils, the 'lush' foreign fruits that had occasionally found their way onto our weekend table weren't at first noticeably missing; but as the weeks and months passed so the odd tin of pineapple or peaches became ever more rare, while the fortnightly orange or banana was a taste of our past. What fruit was still being imported was instantly grabbed by the Ministry of Food for stock-piling, steered for priority distribution to the weak and neady, sick children and pregnant mothers, and the fast growing armed forces.
Another very delectable fruit that graced our six-seater Sunday table perhaps three times a year was the incomparable grapefruit! A bit costly - but my goodness, they were/are nice!! I could only imagine how and where they grew - those exotic sunny lands across the seas - but like conventional scrumping among our local trees I was already contemplating similar response if ever the day came that a grapefruit orchard had the nerve to cross my path.
This general lack of foreign imported fruit was of course ongoing throughout the WAR for shipping space gave preference to war-making tools and mateials. So it can honestly be said that I never peeled my way into another orange nor tucked into another grapefruit for over six years! However, I will admit to allowing my thieving scrumping fingers to dip into a large glass bowl cooling in the hotel refrigerator after a long hoarded tin of the yellow sumptuous was opened for an 'occasion' in 1943. But honestly, I only nicked half a segment; and that tasted so exquisite that -not only did it loosen my fillings, but the crime was well worth it. Any any blame for such boy laxities rests solely with those who declard WAR.
Still unfulfilled in my citrus desires it was time to join the army, but even then matters didn't improve immediately. I had to wait till April 1946 and our Airborne Div posting to Palestine. Now this made my ears prick up for I know Jaffa was situated in this Holy Land, and that Jaffa oranges and grapefruit were the biggest and best citrus fruits seen in the shops before the WAR.
Being very busy and fully occupied on our first day at Camp 21 at Natanya meant that I had to wait until next morning before exploring the very obvious fruit groves surrounding the camp; I could barely wait! Up before reveille and everyone else I headed for the compound wire and a suitable downtrodden breach. The low sun was already bright and warm in a totally blue sky , and clearing the wire I was immediately into an orderly grove of shapely green trees loaded with the biggest grapefruits your mind can imagine! Footballs! - And the aroma! - it was enough to burst one's nose and lungs! I was stunned!! A sniff at the nearest great yellow orb proved a gift from heaven; and there were hundreds of them!! - all around me was stunning aroma and beauty; it was enough to blind a young soldier boy before getting a day older.
I twisted the great ball to detach it; it was fully ripe. Thief or no thief I ate the whole lot, then another. (greedy guts!). It was quiet and still. Light steam vapour was gently rising with the quickly increasing warmth and the first butterflies were flashing their wings as they prepared for mate and flight. I lit a cigarette then stood watching and waiting and looking, thinking and inhaling. It was all too marvellous for words, and I was blindly in love with Holy grapefruits.
Of course I was to become familiar with the orange and lemon groves too for vast quantities of all citrus grew in Palestine. And of course we were forever drinking the cheap juice - undiluted naturally.
We were made quickly aware of the trouble between the Arab and Jewish factions, and that we as Mandate forces were there to help keep the 'peace'. This meant using force on ocasions too, and the prevention of destructive acts - like putting down land mines and the blowing up of tains or derailing them. They were known as terrorists and of course these acts caused casualties, so we had to be very aware and careful. The Jews too could do without our presence, and often made that plain. We were in fact on 'Active Service' (and in due course would be presented with a campaign medal).
However, everything has a funny side and a good laugh came about one night when our section of a dozen paratroops were doing railway patrol. In a fruit grove almost adjacent to the rail lines, light from a pressure lamp lit the darkness. Leaving the track and creeping closer, those of us keen on a good 'giggle' or any mischief spotted about five Arabs sitting and chatting around the light. They were '...guarding their crops by night all seated on the ground;' but they weren't doing a good job, so we would give them a good fright.
Laying aside our weapons we armed ourselves with a pair of grapefuits (now as common as spuds) apiece then, creeping closer, together overarmed the fruit in an upwards trajectory so that all the hefty balls rained down and around them like falling grenades. Well - they did have a dreadful fright - and screaming and yelling for Allah they sped off through the trees towards Jericho in their white shirt clothese like demented ghosts. Talk about fresh fruit giving you the 'runs'!
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