1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment - PALESTINE (1938-1939)
In September 1938, the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, which was then stationed in Aldershot, received orders to move to Palestine. The Arab revolt, which had been simmering for some time, reached serious proportions and it was necessary to reinforce the existing British garrison there. So it was that an advance party of the Battalion left on 2nd September 1938 and the main body sailed in H.T. Neuralia from Southampton on 14th September. The old Neuralia was familiar to many of the men of the Battalion, as the 1st Battalion had sailed in her from Bombay to Shanghai in 1929, and the 2nd Battalion from Malta to Shanghai in 1933.
1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment leave for Palestine (Southampton, 15th September 1938)
Front centre are Field-Marshal Sir Jacob and Brigadier-General G. W. St. George Grogan, V.C.
After a remarkably calm voyage the 1st Battalion reached Haifa on the 26th September 1938, and the same day moved in Motor Transport down the coast road through Tel Aviv and Jaffa to Sarafand, where they bivouaced for the night. The following day they moved on up the hill road to Jerusalem, where we took over a tented camp alongside the lines of 2nd Battalion The Black Watch, which had been prepared by the advance party. The drive from Haifa to Jerusalem was something of an achievement, for the Battalion provided all the drivers for the 60 odd vehicles of all types which formed our convoy. Many of the drivers were inexperienced and a further complication was the rule of the road — “keep to the right.” Despite this, Jerusalem was reached without a single casualty.
Immediately on arrival, the Battalion commenced operations against the rebels. What followed was a period of intense activity for all ranks with minor operations taking place, both by day and night, at frequent intervals. In the first four months the Battalion was involved in thirty-two village searches in addition to providing flying columns and taking part in “combing” operations of many areas. On the day after their arrival, 28th September 1938, “B,” “C” and “D” Companies took part in their first action at Beit Sahur. During this action Private W. Hare (5770527) was severely wounded and later died in hospital.
During this period of time the civil authorities and the police had little or no control in the country; the Arab rebels were doing more or less as they wished; the civil police stations at Bethlehem and Hebron had been burnt out by the rebels; government officials had, with a few exceptions, withdrawn to Jerusalem. The Battalion was given the task of “maintaining public order and security in the Bethlehem and Hebron sub-districts “, a task of some magnitude, involving, as it did, an area of some eight hundred square miles.
Bethlehem Police Station (burnt by rebels on 15th Sept. 1938)
In order to carry out this task “D” Company moved to Bethlehem on 29th September 1938, where it was later joined by Battalion H.Q., H.Q. and “C” Companies. “B” Company went to Hebron and “A” Company established a detached post at Inab on the Jerusalem-Jaffa road, whence patrols operated to prevent sabotage of the pipeline carrying Jerusalem’s water supply. At Bethlehem the Battalion was billeted in the monasteries adjoining the historic church of the Nativity. After the initial language difficulties, the Battalion established very friendly relations with the monks, especially the Franciscans.
The arrival in Bethlehem was the occasion for some heavy sniping directed at the Franciscan monastery. Lieutenant A. J. Gutch (Mortar Platoon Officer) got into action with one of his 3inch mortars on the roof and, though the strike area was searched the next morning with no result, the Battalion was never sniped there again.
On 11th October 1938, 2nd/Lieutenant R. E. Miller, with a platoon of “D” Company, was road-blocked and heavily sniped at close quarters while carrying out a reconnaissance of the Al Walaja track, near Jerusalem. The platoon extricated itself successfully with air assistance, and not without having inflicted severe casualties on the enemy. During this action Private A. Dwyer (5250987) was killed and Private F. Finn (5251355) was wounded. On the same day, at Hebron, “B” Company was heavily engaged by a band of rebels estimated at two hundred strong. Air assistance was called for, and unfortunately two aircraft crashed as the result of enemy fire, though one pilot was rescued. Two men of "B" Company, Lance-Corporal P. Hinchin (2654224) and Private Hughes (3127219), were injured and slightly wounded. The gang was dispersed with casualties estimated at eighteen.
Here a word is due about the topography of the area in which the Battalion was operating and the difficulties in bringing the enemy to battle. The Bethlehem-Hebron road, some thirty kilos in distance, runs along the Judean hills. It is a good metalled road, but crosses numerous wadis on culverts and bridges, which lend themselves to sabotage. For much of the route there is khud on one side and sheer rock on the other, ideal places for road blocks and sniping.
On one occasion the ration convoy met twenty-seven roadblocks in as many miles. The drill for dealing with these was the provision for all convoys of an escort consisting of point, support and rear trucks, each one a 15-cwt. containing a section with a Bren gun.
The point truck, on meeting a roadblock, signalled on its klaxon and immediately opened fire on the block to explode any bomb that might be in it. The support section dismounted and engaged any snipers up the cliff side, covering the dismantling of the block by the point section. Road mines were more difficult to deal with, and eventually the driver’s seat in all trucks was fitted with a steel, missile-proof sheet. The surrounding country consists of small fields divided by stone walls, which provide excellent cover for snipers. Rock-strewn hills and valleys, with an occasional mud and stone-built village, complete the picture.
The search of a village would entail an early start at about 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, and an Motor Transport drive of perhaps 15 to 20 kilos, in the bitter cold. Then came an advance across country from the de-bussing point of 3 to 4 miles, throwing a cordon round the village and the weary job of a house-to-house search (amidst the fleas), interrogation of suspects, and then back to billets in the late afternoon. Normally the Battalions arrival was given away by scouts, informers and dogs, and the wanted birds had flown. Later an “air pin” was laid on at first light until the infantry arrived, giving a certain element of surprise and, to some extent, preventing an exodus from the village. To help the Battalion with these operations they were issued with a number of donkeys, who soon accustomed themselves to loading into lorries for the Motor Transport move, and helped considerably in the carriages of mortar, wireless and other signal equipment, across country in the later stages of the advance. These donkeys became great favourites and all had names appropriate to the time and the conditions.
Towards the end of October the Battalion was relieved of their post on the Jerusalem-Jaffa pipeline, and “A” Company, relieved later by “D” Company, established a new post at Deir Sha'ar, about halfway between Bethlehem and Hebron, which considerably assisted in the control of and prevention of sabotage and blocking of the road. Other activities in October were a search of the old city of Jerusalem, the enforcement of a curfew in Hebron, following the burning of the Jewish Synagogue there, and a round-up and search of the historic village of Bethany with 3rd Battalion The Coldstream Guards.
In November 1938 a number of minor operations took place. The most important was that in which “C” Company, under Captain P. O. C. Ray, acted as escort to Major-General R. N. O’Connor, G.O.C. 7th Division, when he carried out a reconnaissance of the area with a view to re-opening the Jerusalem-Jaffa railway. The enemy was encountered three times during the day and several casualties were inflicted. Private Ryan was killed while he was walking in close proximity to the C.O.C. General O’Connor referred to this incident when, as G.O.C.-in-C. Eastern Command, India, he inspected the 7th Battalion in Burma on 1st June 1945. After inspecting the ranks, he called the men round him and told them that years ago, in Palestine, a Worcestershire platoon saved his life, “for which I am very grateful to you, gentlemen.” Later the Battalion took part in the operation to open up the railway and one platoon of “D“ Company established a post at Husan as part of its protection.
Billets at Deir Sha'ar
On 1st and 2nd December 1938, Arab rebels were engaged at Hebron under the leadership of Abu Julani (Mansour). Battalion H.Q., “A” ,“B” and H.Q. Companies were involved. During the afternoon of 1st December five Arabs were killed and one revolver and 293 rounds of S.A.A. were captured. Mansour’s coat was found, with papers, an office stamp and an undeveloped film. This film was of considerable intelligence value as it included a photo of Mansour and his staff.
The next day “B” Company searched the area of the previous afternoon’s encounter and found a typewriter, cyclostyle, a pair of field-glasses and a spotlight.
On 11th December 1938, “A” and H.Q. Companies went on a “coat trailing” expedition in the Taanaura Arab country between Bethlehem and the Dead Sea. All the nomad encampments, with tents made of black camel-hair and fenced with thorn hedges, looking just as they must have done in the days of Moses, were notably deficient of young men, and a rebel band was encountered near Herod’s Tomb (Tel Hordos), a conspicuous flat-topped hill. This party was engaged and casualties, estimated at seven, were inflicted. Lance-Corporal Riley, of “A” Company was slightly wounded.
Some of the Rebel arms captured at Bani Naim
In all these expeditions the Battalion took with them an R.A.F. vehicle, known as Rodex. A special code enabled us to call up air support from Ramleh within a few minutes. H.Q.‘s carried a red umbrella and platoons a white one. These enabled the aircraft, on arrival, to see the position of our own troops at a glance and to take action against a retreating enemy who always had the advantage of speed and a knowledge of the locality over our own troops when it came to a getaway.
On 18th December 1938, the G.O.C. 7th Division and the District Commissioner held a political Durbar at Yatta, near Hebron. A guard of honour was provided by “B” Company and due ceremonial took place to impress the local inhabitants. Incidentally, the high ground in the vicinity was well picquetted in case of accidents. During the Durbar, a villager, on a lather-covered pony, galloped into the circle and announced that the rebels were attacking his village at Bani Naim. The guard of honour and picquetting troops immediately embussed and encountered a gang of about 100 rebels.
On the arrival of air assistance the gang dispersed and fled into the nullahs east of the village, where they were pinned down and took refuge in the caves. A successful action ensued in which the enemy’s losses were estimated at over 60 killed, including one important leader. Twelve rifles, three revolvers, much ammunition and fifteen prisoners were taken. Private Davidson was severely wounded and later died in hospital. The following were brought to notice for gallantry during the action: Captain D. H. Nott (Brigade I.O.), 2nd-Lieutenant R. B. Frith, Sargeant Rhodes and Lance-Corporal FitzSimmons. Captain Nott and 2nd-Lieutenant Frith were awarded the M.C. and Sargeant Rhodes the M.M. for their part in the action. About this time, one platoon of “B’ Company pushed farther down the Beersheba road and established a post known as Pumpet, a very isolated spot that came in for sniping from time to time.
The majority of the battalion had the unique experience of spending Christmas at Bethlehem, within a few yards of the cave in which Our Lord was born nineteen hundred years before. Normally the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem was closed, but it was opened on Christmas Eve to allow the customary large number of pilgrims to come to Bethlehem for the Midnight Mass in the Franciscan Church. The Battalion had the task of picquetting the road and controlling the traffic and were unable to celebrate their Christmas until Boxing Day, when the Guards took over their duties. Thanks to the courtesy of the Franciscans, a number of the men were able to be present at the Midnight Mass and to make the pilgrimage to the Cave of the Nativity, under the church built by the Emperor Constantine, afterwards. It was an unforgettable experience.
Cover of the 1938 Christmas Card used by the men
(thanks to James Purdy - son of P.S.M. James Frederick Purdy)
Early in January 1939, the Battalion moved to Hebron, leaving only “C” Company and rear H.Q. at Bethlehem. Before leaving Bethlehem. it would be appropriate to mention the mother-of-pearl trade which, in normal times, flourishes there. Every other small shop deals in it—photograph frames, crucifixes, book-covers, brooches, all very delicate work.
The women’s headdress here is unique, consisting as it does of a high-pointed “dunce’s” cap, from which flows a long veil, a relic of the days of the Crusades when this was the normal headdress of the women of England. Then, too, mention must be made of the flagstaff on the Franciscan Monastery carrying both the Union Jack and the Crusader’s flag (the Franciscan flag of to-day), probably the first time these two flags have ever flown together.
One of the illustrations with this account shows the blowing up of an Arab house near the courtyard of the church which was the Battalions Motor Transport park. This was carried out as a punishment for the sniping of our sentry on the Motor Transport park and had a salutary effect.
No. 3 Mortar Detachment wiring at Deir Sha'ar
On the Bethlehem-Hebron road is the site of the original springs from which Solomon obtained the water supply for the Temple in Jerusalem. Pieces of the old aqueduct could still be seen by the roadside. The Battalion used this as an emergency supply when the pipeline was cut, and it was a curious sight to see a mechanised water-truck and a horrocks water testing apparatus in operation, drawing water from Solomon’s Pools.
At Hebron the Battalion was billeted just outside the city in a number of Arab houses, supplemented with a few huts. The perimeter was surrounded with barbed wire, which was well patrolled at night. “B” Company was on the other side of the town in the old Quarantine Hospital and in touch with H.Q. by wireless. Both these localities constituted firm bases from which columns could move out to deal with any trouble. The weather had now become cold and we had had a fall of snow. Locations were now as follows;
Bethlehem. “C” Company and rear Bn. H.Q.
Hebron. H.Q., “A” Company and H.Q. Company.
“B” Company (Quarantine Hospital).
Deir Sha'ah. “D” Company.
Lieutenant C. J. Myburgh joined the Battalion early in January 1939 and shortly afterwards took over training of Palestine Police. Later in the month Lieutenant L. P. C. Sheen joined from U.K. with a welcome draft of 97 other ranks. There was even less occupation for spare time in their perimeter at Hebron than at Bethlehem, and the Battalions periodical expeditions into the district came as welcome diversions. On 27th and 28th January the Battalion took part in a Brigade “Drive” in the Tannaura Arab country towards the Dead Sea. On 11th February 1939, the Hebron billets were heavily sniped with both Lewis gun and rifle fire. That Mansour had a Lewis gun in his armoury we confirmed later from a captured nominal roll in which the “commander-in-chief’s Lewis gunner” occupied a prominent position. How he kept the gun in action without spares remains a mystery. A 48-hour curfew was imposed on Hebron town with good results.
At this time a new policy was introduced with a view to restoring confidence among the villagers. Troops were sent to billet for a few days in Arab villages accompanied by a political officer. Among these friendly visits, “B” Company H.Q. and one platoon occupied Dura village and met with a very cordial reception. One could not help being reminded of the Philistines and the Israelites when villagers came in and asked for assistance in recovering their camels and goats, which had been removed by a village in the plains.
On 4th March 1939, “A” and “B” Companies cordoned and searched Taffun. During their approach march, “A” Company were sniped by a gang of about fifteen Arabs. No. 8 Platoon returned the fire and pushed forward one section, which succeeded in killing one Arab and capturing his rifle and 60 rounds. A second Arab, who was wounded, threw himself down a well. A section of No. 7 Platoon worked round a flank whereon the rebels fled and, in the ensuing chase, two were captured.
The rocky hills round Hebron were found to contain a number of partridge (chukhor) and a few woodcock. Occasional deer were also seen. Good sport was enjoyed from time to time by those with guns. Shooting parties were always escorted by rifles and the leader used to carry a Verey pistol with which to signal to the wireless truck on the road should the party bump into a rebel gang instead of a covey of partridge.
In April 1939, the Battalion was ordered to extend its area to include Beersheba. This town was completely Arab and the surrounding district quite different from the rest of the Battalion area, being on the edge of the desert in rolling sandy country, in marked contrast to the rock-strewn Judean hills. The inhabitants were Bedouin and wilder and more primitive than those of the Hebron area. The inclusion of Beersheba increased the Battalion area to approximately 2000 square miles. The first garrison of Beersheba was a platoon of “A” Company under 2nd/Lieutenant P. W. Kerens. Later in the month “B” Company took over the garrison after handing over their commitments at Bethlehem. Captain Deacon and 2nd/Lieutenants Orchard, James and Dray joined the Battalion in April 1939.
Early in May, Pumpet came in for some severe sniping. Police dogs were employed and a shotgun, revolver and some ammunition were found in a cave near Ar Rikiya.
In order to encourage the surrender of arms, a new village occupation policy was introduced. Platoons of “D” Company occupied Beit Fajjar and Beit Immar for several days with good results. Beit Fajjar produced eight rifles, five shotguns, one automatic and four revolvers. Beit Immar produced ten rifles.
An intensive week’s drive took place in May 1939, with the object of catching Mansour (Abu Julani). This leader’s intelligence was remarkably good, and he was never run to earth. On 30th May, Lieutenant-Colonel S. A. Gabb, to the regret of all ranks, left the Battalion on the completion of four years in command. He handed over the Battalion to Major E. L. G. Lawrence.
Lieut.-Col. S. A. Gabb
On 1st June 1939, the 145th anniversary of “The Glorious First of June” was celebrated with a ceremonial parade, a pagal gymkhana, a travelling cinema and matches between officers and sergeants at medicine ball and deck tennis. Unfortunately these celebrations were interrupted by a call for troops and they did not return till 6 p.m. During June a further drive for Mansour resulted in the capture of thirty wanted men, and “B” Company instituted a daily patrol from Beersheba to the Egyptian frontier to protect P.W.D. workers on the road.
On 5th July 1939, a party from H.Q. Company, led by Captain P. H. Graves-Morris, encountered a small gang leaving Ad Daweina village. Fire was opened and one Arab wounded and captured. The village was occupied for 24 hours and, under pressure, eleven rifles, three revolvers and two shotguns were produced. Further visits yielded a total of thirty-four rifles, five revolvers and some S.A.A.— the largest haul of arms from any village in the Battalion area to date. Towards the end of July “A” Company moved to Sarafand and “B” Company handed over Beersheba to the civil police. On the evening of 22nd July, “D” Company, returning from As Samu, engaged an armed band at Kilo 39 on the Hebron-Beersheba road. This gang had earlier ambushed an R.A.F. armoured car. During the engagement Private Harry Potter (5251351) was killed and Privates Darby, Warwick, Pearson and Simmonds were wounded. Private Darby died of his wounds in hospital in Jerusalem on 7th September 1939.
Enemy casualties could not be assessed owing to darkness. It is well to remark here that the Arab is expert at recovering his dead and wounded. “B” Company occupied Beit Jibrin village from 22nd to 28th July, resulting in the surrender of forty rifles.
On 1st August 1939, one platoon of H.Q. Company, under 2nd/Lieutenant J. W. B. Stuart, returning from Adh Dhahariya, encountered and engaged an armed gang, as a result of which nine enemy were killed, one wounded and six rifles captured. There were no casualties to the Company troops. During August, the last month the Battalion spent in Palestine, the policy of continued pressure on villages, combined with a scheme of payments and rewards for surrender of arms, bore good fruit. No less than two hundred and fifty-four rifles and seven revolvers were brought in, or found, during this month alone. On 13th August, the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel E. L. C. Lawrence, and his escort, was heavily sniped at Kilo 33 while returning from Jerusalem to Hebron. A tyre of his car was punctured by a bullet, making steering difficult. Fire was returned and the escort and car extricated themselves successfully. Lance-Corporal Hayes, of H.Q. Company, was seriously wounded in the head and died later that night at Hebron. A platoon of H.Q. Company left camp immediately and searched the scene, but did not contact the enemy.
Worcestershire Officers and Sergeants at the Dead Sea
L to R: Lieut. W. H. Sargeant, Sgt. E. Jordan, Major J. O. Knight, PSM G. Jones, Sgt. D. Powell,
Sgt. A. Rhodes, M.M.
On 23rd August 1939 the Battalion received preliminary orders to move to the Sudan and was concentrated at Sarafand on 25th August. All the companies were together that night for the first time since the Battalion’s arrival in Palestine, nearly a year before. Next day the Battalion entrained at Lydda. Major-General R. N. O’Connor presented the G.O.C.’s certificate for distinguished conduct in the operation of 1st August, to 2nd/Lieutenant J. W. B. Stuart, Sergeant Bruton, Corporal J. E. P. Taylor and Corporal H. G. Packer. He also informed Lieutenant Stuart that he had been awarded the M.C. and Sergeant Bruton the M.M. These awards appeared subsequently in the London Gazette. On the occasion of the departure of the Battalion the following Order of the Day was issued by General O’Connor:
Special Order of the Day
Major-General R. N. O’Connor, D.S.O., M.C.,
Commander, 7th Division.
Jerusalem, 24th August, 1939.
On leaving my Division for service in the Sudan, I must place on record my appreciation of the sterling work you have done in quelling the rebellion in the Hebron area. When you arrived last September and established your headquarters at Bethlehem, the rebel elements to the south had the upper hand, but at the end of the year, by gradual infiltration and steady pressure, you had established law and order in your area.
You have also impressed your efficiency in action on the armed gangs at Bani Naim last December and again recently at Kilo 49, and in numerous smaller encounters. I must make special mention of the remarkable surrender of rifles which has recently taken place in your area and which bears marked testimony to the success of the policy pursued by your Commanding Officer and carried out by all ranks of the Regiment.
I wish you all good luck in the future wherever you may be.
(Signed) R. N. O’CONNOR, Major-General, Commander 7th Division.
Beating "Retreat" outside Government Offices, Hebron 1939
Hebron Billets (April 1939)
Thus ended an eventful year in the Battalion’s history. There is little to add to the G.O.C.’s appreciation, save to pay tribute to the rank and file of the Battalion who, during this year, carried out their task of restoring law and order with firmness and restraint; lived under conditions of considerable discomfort, lacking any amenities; and who accepted all this with unsurpassed cheerfulness, thus maintaining the 250 years of tradition of the 29th Foot and setting an example for the future.
All ranks were awarded the General Service Medal, with clasp“Palestine,” for this campaign.
Roll of Officers who embarked for Palestine
Lt.-Col. S. A. Gabb, O.B.E., M.C. C.O.
Major E. L. G. Lawrence, D.S.O., M.C. 2nd in C.
Major S. W. Jones. O.C. H.Q. Coy.
Major J. C. M. Balders. O.C. “D” Coy.
Major J. O. Knight. O.C. “B” Coy.
Major R. B. Moss, M.B.E. O.C. “A” Coy.
Major R. E. L. Tuckey. Adjutant.
Captain P. O. C. Ray. O.C. “C” Coy.
Captain P. H. Graves-Morris. Battalion Intelligence Officer.
Captain H. Coffin. “D” Coy. (later attached H.Q. 18 Inf. Bde.).
Captain D. H. Nott. Appointed Intelligence Officer 18 Inf. Bde.
Lieut. J. B. Brierley. Signalling Officer.
Lieut. C. G. Burke. M. T.O.
Lieut. A. J. Gulch. Mortar Officer.
2nd/ Lieut.. R. B. Firth. “B” Coy.
2nd/ Lieut. J. S. Vaughan. “C” Coy.
2nd/ Lieut. J. W. B. Stuart. H.Q. Coy. (assi. M. T.O.).
2nd/ Lieut. P. W. Kerans. “A” Coy.
2nd/ Lieut. H. W. Sargeant. “B” Coy.
2nd/ Lieut. D. B. Haslehurst. “C” Coy.
2nd/ Lieut. R. E. Miller. “ D” Coy.
2nd/ Lieut. A. H. Cooper. Quartermaster.
Story of the Hebron Convoy (1938)
In the Judean Hills around Bethlehem, the late Autumn nights are cold, with morning dew and a heavy low lying mist which skirls across the winding roads. Mornings progress slowly; but as the sun heightens in the sky, the days become crisp, dry and invigorating.
It was on such a bright mid-morning in late October of 1938 that the writer of this story (Major T. F. W. Seabrook), who was on that day the Orderly Warrant Officer of the First Battalion, The Worcestershire Regiment, "Turned Out" the main guard, in the paved forecourt of Bethlehem Church of the Nativity, the most famous of all Christian shrines, which ran alongside the Armenian Monastery. The entrance from the road was heavily sandbagged on both sides. It was just wide enough to allow the entry of a Service vehicle. The outer wall, which ran the length of the Roman Catholic Church on the side of the main Jerusalem—Hebron Road, had all its gaps sand-bagged and was heavily shrouded in barbed wire.
Two trucks of the Hebron ration convoy about to leave Bethlehem
The Sentry's beat was inside the revetment; the road, at right angles to the entrance, went up the hill to the large Mosque, which physically overshadowed the town, but both the Sentry and the Guard had a full view of the main road and its junction to the Mosque.
The courtyard, which was used as the Battalion's M.T. Park, contained only the emergency vehicles at that time, for the convoy to Hebron had left at ten, an hour earlier than usual.
Road Block, Hebron - Yatta Road
The ancient, but still very rough winding road running South between the hills, for about twenty kilometres from Bethlehem to the Hebron Detachment, was a daily test for the Battalion's M.T. The return trip was the convoy's daily stint. Hebron seemed to be the hub of the rebel activity, which was also said to be the Arab Commander's H.Q.
Certain M.T. drivers and the Q.M.'s ration staff did the journey every day; but the Convoy's protection was the task of the Duty Company, so this changed daily. After all these years it is difficult to remember, so this is a guessing estimate of the average number of illegal road blocks which the convoy encountered every day on its outward journey. These had to be cleared by those supporting the point. The point party being protected by those nominated for this task who raced to positions on the hills, on either side of the road, as their trucks came to a halt.
A figure of between twenty and thirty hastily erected blocks, which had not existed on the previous day's return journey, was not uncommon. To this would need to be added numbers of "Official" staggered road blocks; these were strategically sited, with the sole purpose of slowing down fugitive vehicles which might carry Bandits.
In 1938 the relatively small British force in Palestine was fully extended, in trying to quell the rebellion. The force was there under the Mandate established following the imprecise Balfour Declaration of 1917. To those engaged in this thankless task neither our publicity nor press relations seemed to be particularly good. We regularly received advice from all quarters, from home and abroad including some particularly gratuitous ideas by radio, from Adolf Hitler as to how he and the Third Reich might deal with our Jew-Arab problem.
On the previous afternoon the late Captain P. O. C. Ray, O.C. "C" Company, had been at the King David Hotel, in Jerusalem, where he had met the late Mr. G. Ward Price, who was one of the "Daily Mail's" Foreign Correspondents, assigned to cover the troubles in the Holy Land.
Ward Price had a "Yellow" pass from Force H.Q., which allowed him a free run of the whole country; but the roads had become increasingly dangerous and ambushing was a daily hazard. So, he asked Captain Ray's assistance to get to Hebron. As "C" Company were guarding the convoy next day, he thought there would be no difficulty in fitting in Ward Price's large American car, with its Bodyguards and an Interpreter. Captain Ray gave him instructions as to the rendezvous, later that evening.
1st Bn Worcestershire Regiment Officers outside the Officers' Mess at Hebron
L to R: Capt. P. H. Graves-Morris, Capt. John Lambkin (R.A.M.C.), Lieut. Mickey Kerans, Lieut.(Q.M.) Dolly Cooper, Lieut.-Col. Sam Gabb (Commanding the 1st. Battalion), Capt. P. O. C. Ray, Lieut. J. B. Brierley, Major R. B. Moss, Lieut. C. G. Burke.
When he returned to Bethlehem the Company Commander told his C.S.M. of this arrangement so that he could place the American car in the convoy. "C" Company H.Q. and the C.S.M.'s bunk was in a cell in the monks' quarters in the Monastery of the Armenian Church, and Captain Ray came there next morning before breakfast. As he entered the 'phone rang. The C.O. was on the line.
Apparently, Force H.Q. in Jerusalem was not happy about Ward Price and an American of the Associated Press, going to Hebron. Coincident with Captain Ray's arrangements, H.Q. issued a special order cancelling all "Yellow" passes. In this edict, pass holders were warned to surrender these for new ones, which would be more limiting on their movement and imposed stricter surveillance.
The C.O. told Captain Ray of this and instructed him to contact Ward Price warning him to obtain a new pass before coming to Bethlehem. Captain Ray called Ward Price who said he would be able to get a new pass, easily. So, with a "Thank you" for the advice their conversation closed.
Bethlehem breakfasts were always very early; so the Convoy personnel had ample time to prepare. However, Force H.Q. had other ideas for that day and orders were given to advance the move of the Convoy, by one hour.
This was the situation, when the large American car arrived at the Church Courtyard shortly before the normal time of the Convoy's departure. Covered by the Sentry, the Orderly Warrant Officer moved towards the vehicle, which he rightly judged to be that which his Company Commander had described.
The two journalists were flanked on either side by huge Arab "Bodyguards." As the Orderly Warrant Officer approached, they presented their official visiting cards. Whilst these and their "Yellow" passes were being examined, the American reminded the C.S.M. that they had met some years earlier, in Shanghai! The Associated Pressman's card was the usual "Foreign" type for the Far East and had his particulars in Japanese and Chinese characters, on its reverse side.
The Sergeant Major handed over the escort to the Guard Commander and the Interpreter was told to bring the car into the forecourt.
The journalists were told that the Convoy had already left. Ward Price then volunteered the information that they intended to go to Hebron by car. However, after they had been warned of the dangers of the road, particularly with a lone vehicle, protected only with personal weapons, they agreed to see the 2nd in Command, who was known to be in the Orderly Room, in the Casanova. As the Orderly Warrant Officer led the pair towards the Casanova, he realised the job on his hands and knew that he was quite likely to be well out of his depth in his dealing, in the immediate future with these gentlemen with highly enquiring minds, now in his charge.
They entered the Church through the old low archway, its only entrance. Leaving the newspaper men in the outer office, the Orderly Warrant Officer went into the Orderly Room. The 2nd in Command (Major E. L. G. Lawrence, D.S.O., M.C.) was there with two other senior Officers.
The Orderly Warrant Officer gave the visiting cards to the 2nd in Command, who passed them to the others. Despite that all three knew of the withdrawal of the "Yellow" passes, not one of them seemed to react to the fact that Ward Price was at that time running a series on the current situation on Palestine, in "The Daily Mail."
The trio conferred for a few moments and then Major S. W. Jones suggested that the visitors be shown round the Churches. The 2nd in Command returned the cards to him and as he left, Major J. C. M. Balders cautioned him to "Be careful what you show them."
Major Lawrence confirmed that the car and its passengers should not go onto the Hebron Road. If they attempted to do so, they should be restrained. They were told this and they then commenced a visit to see the troops' accommodation and the Churches.
After a look at some of the Battalion's tradesmen's shops, most of which were staffed by Indians, the Orderly Warrant Officer inevitably led them to the site of the Manger. The three armed men stood gazing at the Star, on the sunken floor. They presented a queer sight as they stood in the grotto.
The Sergeant Major attempted to tell them the story of the most sacred spot in the Holy Land, in his best guide manner—but Ward Price would have none of it. He said:
"I am not irreverent, but I have been here several times before. What I want to know is—what's going on at Hebron, and why can't we go there? "
The American and Ward Price pressed the question; but the Orderly Warrant Officer merely told them, that there was certainly plenty of trouble there, especially as each evening approached, and at night. Rather despondently he led them up into the Basilica.
In the meantime, either a feeling of in hospitability or perhaps the significance of the journalists' presence must have dawned on the three senior officers, for the three Majors soon left the Orderly room in search of the visitors. Two of the Officers converged on the sight-seeing party in the Greek Orthodox Church. They carried off Ward Price and the American to the Mess.
Except that the Orderly Warrant Officer saw a jolly pair into the American car which went out of the courtyard onto the Jerusalem Road later that afternoon, the story was closed as far as he was concerned. However, he is quite certain that Ward Price did not get to Hebron at that time in 1938; but just why the authorities suddenly withdrew pass facilities to him at that particular time, was never explained.