Egypt & Palestine 1946-47
We received our commissions at a parade held on 17 July 1946 and my uncle Josie Hurley came from Lincoln as my guest. We then were given a short leave during which I received my posting to ‘Headquarters RAF Levant (Palestine) for disposal’. My route to Palestine was by ferry to Calais, a long, slow, train journey to Hyeres near Toulon and after a few days there in a delightful transit camp and a trip to Monte Carlo, by boat to Alexandria and from there by train to the RAF Base at Heliopolis, near Cairo.
The July temperatures in the high 90s Fahrenheit, accommodated in tents, were hard to take but I enjoyed the opportunity of seeing the Gaza Pyramids and sight-seeing in Cairo. I was happy to leave that grotty city by train to take up a posting to No.2908 Squadron RAF Regiment at RAF Base, Lydda (now Lod), ten miles south-east of Tel Aviv.
We were somewhat superfluous on that unit but as the Squadron was on 24 hour alert because of the Jewish terrorist activity in Palestine at that time, we found sufficient patrolling-security exercises to keep us occupied. We were essentially confined to camp but there were opportunities to get out and about in numbers to see the delights of the Holy Land. After a month or so there, myself and a few others were posted to No.2884 Squadron at Ein Shemer near Hadera, six miles south-east of the biblical town of Caesarea. Ein Shemer was a big base, the main acitivity being air surveillance of the Palestinian coast for illegal immigrants. Our task was the security of the airfields to enable the aircraft to operate. Local patrols were also necessary, particularly checking activity in the nearby orange groves and the main hill, Kafra Basa, near the airfield. We never travelled alone, particularly if in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, and it was important to keep ‘a rear watch’ when walking the streets as some Service personnel had been shot in the back while harmlessly sight-seeing. Also it was not a pleasant sight seeing two Army Sergeants hanging from trees, murdered by the Irgun Zvai Leumi, one of the Jewish terrorist organisations, or to see the results of the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
Getting around in the not so Holy Land was a great experience. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Haifa, Acra, Caesarea, Tel Aviv/Jaffa, were musts as and when Service commitments allowed me. The familiarity of place names from biblical studies in my youth made me feel less of a stranger. Confinements to camp were not much of a hardship for there was a lot of inter-unit sport to be played. Also, from time to time, I was asked to give the NCOs and airmen of the Regiment squadrons a talk on what it was like to fly on a WW II bombing mission - as I recall I was the only Officer on the Regiments units then in Palestine to have had WW II operational experience.
In 1947 I was posted to the RAF Regiment Instructor’s Unit at Kasfareet, in the Suez Canal Zone, on instructional duties - running the compulsory ground-defence courses taken annually by all RAF personnel. Kasfareet was the biggest RAF base in the Middle East at that time and was located on the edge of the Bitter Lakes which provided us with sailing and swimming. Ismailia and Suez were the nearest townships. A few months later I was on the move again as it had been decided to move the Instructor’s Unit to RAF Station Shallufa, a few miles north of Suez. I was sent ahead to oversee the construction of the Unit’s teaching accommodation and it was my first close experience working with Arabs (labourers) who needed close supervision. Their foreman was a red-headed, blue-eyed Egyptian! - no doubt the product of an Egyptian mother and a British serviceman of the 1920s garrison. However ‘El Red-Head’ soon got the message that we had a very close completion date to meet and my task was successful.
I enjoyed the instructional duties but Egypt was not a place I liked. The locals were forever ‘on the make’ with hands out for ‘baksheesh’ (begging in fact) all the time and thieving was the norm for them. At this point I learnt that the RAF intended to create a native force to be called The Burma and Malayan Levies and I volunteered for this posting and in a matter of weeks I was on my way by troop ship (the “Dunera” which later had infamous connections with Australia) from Port Said to Singapore.