Well now, here was an opportunity. The European war had just ended and I could leave the stompers and get into policing. Two birds to be killed with one stone! I applied forthwith in my best handwriting and soon thereafter received an order to appear before a panel who were to determine my suitability to serve in the Palestine Police Force. Having provided the answers which my Celtic intuition told me they wished to hear, I had guessed correctly and was accepted.
Reminiscences of Times long Past
I felt hugely relieved. The stompers were one of those British military units which had very peculiar habits. They never tried to count beyond the number three Everyone shouted at the tops of their voices most of the time. Some of them had learned to break into screams, I mean the kind of screams exhibited by those who are enraged. Stomping was usually a response to the screams. However, if you answered a question without raising your voice you were likely to have to repeat your response several times,. each time louder than previously. . Later in life I began thinking of that period as the time of my sojourn with the mad people. Because I am a quiet fellow who enjoys his privacy you can well imagine my relief upon being selected.
The panel members told me that my main task would be to ensure fairness in the interactions between the two main groups resident within the country and being 20 years old, I thought that was a most laudable objective. However, when I arrived in Palestine I found myself at the Jenin Police Mobile Force camp where a rather pale imitation of stomper activities was taking place. I think it was because I had rashly mentioned in my application to join that I had taken small arms and drill instructors courses that I was conjoined with the camp instructors. My perception told me that this could not last too long because there wouldn't be an endless supply of recruits but I was wrong.
Finally after six months of imitation stomper activities I had reached the end of my tether. I marched into the office of the camp commander and informed him that I had joined the force to learn policing and I was unwilling to continue in my present role. While his responses suggested to me that he was engaging in a new experience, the camp commander finally agreed that in exchange for my voluntary reduction in rank he would allow me to enter the regular police service . I accepted gladly and soon I headed for Jerusalem for a couple of weeks of beat duty followed by a transfer to Jericho. The Jericho heat had little effect on me and it was summer almost all of the year. I enjoyed thoroughly taking the tribal policemen (members of area Bedouin tribes) out on anti-smuggling patrols. Of course, I was unable to practice the art of keeping the peace between groups because the non Arab citizens were visible only when I had occasion to be on the Jerusalem road where they roared by driving large potash laden trucks.
After a few months I was ordered to attend the police school for training in law and language. That wasn't a bad idea because I had received very little such training while at Jenin! . Apparently I did well, (I always sought the answer to questions which I believed the instructor would prefer rather than what may have seemed most appropriate) because I was again made an acting 2nd British Sergeant and I was sent to Bethlehem to assume charge of the town police post during the absence of the regular officer 1/c who left on a three months vacation. I believe my training for the activities of the town police post officer i/c lasted about ten minutes. It started and ended with the words, "Don't hesitate to get hold of me if you have a problem you can't easily resolve. " As I recall, on those few occasions that I attempted to get hold of the officer i/c he was away and unavailable, but that probably stemmed from a lack of fortuity. He was a pleasant chap who believed that policemen were expected to use their initiative to resolve problems. After my previous experiences that sounded like a wonderful notion!
My three months at Bethlehem extended to six months because of the continued absence of the regular sergeant i/c. I had an office from where I could look across the road to the square in front of the church of the Nativity. Usually there were a number of young men, fellaheen from area villages congregated there. This seemed to irritate the local Christian merchants, and occasionally a fight would ensue and knob headed sticks which the men carried would be used. The amazing thing was that I could attend alone, slap at both groups with a swagger cane and they would retreat. I was never struck under those circumstances though many of the men could have done so while I was unable to see them. They had respect for the police. On Saturdays, at the town market, no one was permitted to carry their daggers, which normally are a regular part of the dress of the Muslim men, and the daggers were not visible . I learned that by looking carefully at an individual, if he actually carried a dagger he would probably react with a kind of guilty look. I would then search and confiscate the weapon. Apparently this gave me a reputation of being able to see through their clothing! I would seize a number of daggers to create examples and would hand them to the care of one of the local Arab policemen. Quite some time after I left Bethlehem I discovered that he would return the daggers to their owners the following day!
There was a large black book in my office which was called the Status Quo for the Church of the Nativity. I had been instructed to read it from cover to cover and I did so though it took up a great amount of time and I could not memorize it. The book set out the rights of passage within the church, of the various Christian sects. It was to be religiously adhered to by all. It was important because each sect would collect fees from the purchase of candles etc. at various locations and at given times within the church. When one priest would take his flock in a direction which interfered with another groups' right of passage, trouble would occasionally ensue and scuffles would occur that required an immediate police response. I should mention that the fees collected were required to sustain the activities of the various Christian groups.
Amongst my responsibilities was the perimeter security of the detention centre for female Jewish political prisoners. There were eighteen temporary police whose sole function was to guard that perimeter. I decided that I should make occasional patrols late at night to ensure their alertness. On my first night patrol, the first man I came upon was alert but was terrified of the approaching stranger and he said he had his hand on the trigger and almost fired a shot. I could see he was quite upset. Thereafter I let it be known in advance when I intended to visit their posts and would specify a time range when I could be expected!
After six months I returned to Jericho where I remained until the last six months of the mandate when many of the British rural policemen were assigned to security duties in the major cities.
Jericho was an idyllic posting for those who enjoyed long walks and could withstand the extreme dry heat. There was a mounted section which patrolled most of the far flung reaches of the District to maintain a presence and to arrest various miscreants who resided within the confines of the villages. A favorite pastime for the mounted officers was to stay in a village until a wanted person gave himself up to them. Because the headman of a village was required by his religion and custom to provide the best of food and lodging for guests, it soon became an expensive activity and the miscreant would appear and surrender. The most common practice was that as soon as the officers indicated they were staying until the miscreant gave himself up he would, shortly thereafter, appear before them.
Foot patrols were aimed at persons who smuggled sheep, goats, tobacco, hashish and other sundry items across the Jordan River which separated Palestine from Trans-Jordan. The smugglers, who, if their wares were not illegal substances, were simply evading the payment of duty, were most vulnerable at the river crossing and thereafter when they reached the foothills several miles away where there was no cover. They were aware of the locations of fordable crossings but so were our tribal policemen who perhaps in times past had participated in similar activities. Once over the river the smugglers were able to take cover in one of the numerous wadis which stretched from the foothills to the river.
The tribal policemen were fine honest men who worked well and tolerated the heat with few complaints when they were looking for smugglers. Of course, there were rewards for the recovery of smuggled goods which were doled out to the policemen upon completion of the court processes. The amount depended upon the value of the merchandise seized. Most smugglers were not violent people but those who were involved in drug smuggling could be armed and dangerous.
The Wadis, in January or February when it rained, became host to large numbers of migrating foul and there were numerous wild pigs to be found. It became an excellent hunting spot over a brief Spring period.
By the start of 1948 tensions between the Arabs and Jews had reached a point which was exploding into civil war. The hard pressed British military were no longer able to contain the violence. Most British rural police were being called into the cities to protect certain compound areas occupied by civil services and other British interests. I was sent to Jerusalem for guard duties and I remained there until late May 1948 when I departed from that country and its unhappy people, to seek new adventures elsewhere.
I will never forget the young Arab lad who was looking after a flock of goats and at the same time was practicing flying, using his arms as wings and running up and down the hills. No one else was within many miles of him and I called him over to ask a question. He pointed to himself, looked around and said, in a surprised voice, "Who, me?"