Palestine and unrest

Today my Dad remembers a visit to Nazareth and describes Palestine unrest.

In short the whole of the Mediterranean area was volatile and only Britain had a strong naval and military presence.  The most volatile of the lot was Palestine an Arab country ruled by the British with a minority Jewish population who up to the end of the war had lived more or less peaceably with Arabs until now.

But the Jews had been promised a homeland of their own by Britain at the end of the first world war and now wanted that promise honoured.  There were Jews who were trying to obtain this peaceably but there were factions within Palestine who were wanting to see a country of their own created and were using terrorism to bring it about.  As a humble sailor I did not know the ins and outs of the Jewish movement only that there were three main groups the Haganah, the Irgunzweileumi and the Stern Gang.  All three were well armed and well supplied with arms and took every opportunity of attacking the Arabs.  Both sides at the same time took every opportunity to shoot at the British.

There was a major pipeline from the airfields in Iraq above ground passing through Jordan and Palestine to the oil installations at Haifa and this pipeline was subject to regularly being fractured by explosives.  Thus there was a strong British Naval presence in and around Haifa.

At any one time there were a number of British warships anchored in Haifa harbour.  They did not moor alongside as it was too risky and therefore all contact with the shore was by ship’s boat.

Our carrier came into Haifa and moored mainly to take on supplies but did not stay overnight as we were a prime target for an attack by the Jews.  The would swim out to an anchored ship and attach limpet mines to the bottom.  We had to maintain a motorboat continuously circling the ship to guard against this.

Collecting stores from the rock side was a hazard in itself.  For instance on one occasion we had to collect a supply of eggs several thousand of them.  They were delivered to the dockside by the Arab supplier in huge boxes.  A detail from our ship was put ashore and every egg had to be transferred to our own containers to ensure there were no bombs in the consignment whilst just beyond the fence there was a skirmish going on between Arabs and Jews with bullets flying.

On one visit to Haifa we were asked if we would like to go on a visit to Nazareth.  About a dozen of us were interested and we were given advice about defending ourselves by one of the officers. We were then issued with a rifle each and rounds of ammunition before setting off in a 3 ton lorry on the drive to Nazareth which took about one hour and was without incident.

Nazareth was an Arab town more of an overgrown village with just a few of the population sat about smoking and drinking coffee.  There were no amenities and the only place of any interest was the house which was said to be where Jesus lived as a child.  We were allowed to enter four at a time and descended some well worn steps into a cave like chamber not a bit commercialised as it probably is today.  The one incongruous thing in going into such  holy place was the fact that we each carried a loaded rifle for protection.

From there we were taken to the Sea of Galilee and to the town of Tiberias at the south end of the lake.  There were stationed a battalion of the 17/21 Lancers the Death and Glory Boys and given a meal.  The meal was served by black African servants in white robes and wearing red fezzes – a novel experience.

We returned to the ship at the end of the day handing in rifles and ammunition unused.

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