“We got dropped on in Haifa in Palestine. At that time trouble was brewing because a lot of the immigrants from the death camps that had been relieved or saved by British troops were trying to make their way there. People also from Warsaw from the ghetto.”
John was an experienced soldier by the time he got to Palestine but his troop were joined there by new recruits. “This particular night we were on guard and about 2am the Bren guns were going like the clappers and this young, very green soldier who had only been in the Army a couple of months. He was terrified even with his Bren gun. All around you could see eyes glowing in the dark”. What he didn’t know was that the eyes belonged to desert wolves and weren’t people trying to break into the camp! “The officers just said, “Let’s forget it. Nobody knows about it.” About 9 am a dispatch rider comes up with a message for the officer that went something like this. They wanted to know if we had done any shooting during the night and what happened was that when the firing was happening it went down into the valley and the Brigadier was on his belly because the bullets were firing through his billet. We kept it very quiet, like”.
John was then moved to Jerusalem and promoted to Sgt. He still remembers how beautiful the old city was. However, they were targets for local terrorists. “There was one place the lads were allowed to go called the Queens pub. Some of our lads went there for about a week until one of the Jewish terrorists tossed a grenade and killed a couple in there so then that was out of bounds.”
The hunt for terrorists and their weapons intensified. “We were liaising with the Palestine Police, which was a civilian body that took control since Palestine was a protectorate and the Brits were responsible for security. When we got there all we saw was a half naked middle-aged woman chained to a pole with a corrugated sheet above her. I don’t know if that was their way of getting rid of them without killing them but she was left there basically to die. So we got back to the Sgts mess and I said, “Well that’s it then, somebody’s tipped them off. I bet it’s the Palestine Police. I bet if we went back we’d find the arms. A voice said “That’s a bloody good idea” and it was the Brigadier so we went back and sure enough we found them putting the arms back that time.”
“Then of course things took a turn for the worst. There was a big hotel called the King David Hotel in the city. Everywhere we went we had to have 4 people with us. One of the officers said he needed an escort so I said I would go to the King David Hotel because the GHQ of the British Army was there on the left wing. We drove into the King David Hotel and while I’m at the end of the hotel this woman comes up to me and says “I’m Mary Campbell of the News Chronicle. Could you tell me about yourself and what you are doing?” I just said,
“I’m just a soldier”. With that there is a bang, bang and I went to get my rifle followed by a terrific explosion and they blew the end off the King David Hotel. 90 odd got killed and there were bodies all over the road. The Jewish terrorists had taken milk churns full of explosives into the hotel and blown it up.”
“I was coming to the end of my service when we got stuck outside the Battah shoe shop in Jerusalem. What had happened was that the terrorists had filled the shoes full of explosives and the detonator was wired to the clock so at 7 o’clock about 100 or so pairs of shoes full of explosives went up. A couple of our lads were killed and I got blown in the air and ended up coming home in a hospital ship.”