Alan Mills – A Cushy Number

The 'Shift 4' Lads

The ‘Shift 4’ Lads

Shortly after arriving in Haifa, I quickly learned about the ‘Happy Hour.’ This was a ritual observed by both young and older men who let their frustrations out by firing illegal weapons.

There was a continous battle to get illegal firearms off the street but even so, every so often you’d hear a lone rifle fire, followed by a revolver before been joined by a rally from   automatic rifles and everything else that happened to be lying about. Mostly the arms were continuously just fired in the air, creating a load of din and noise which to me was a dangerous waste of time and ammunition.

Arab and also Jewish Constables played an important part in the local police duties. The Arabs were good to have on your side in the Suq (Arab Quarter) where public order was often stretched. Most of them spoke English and they were all highly educated. Often they were responsible for traffic duty. The commercial area was fast   developing alongside the Port Area and the extra traffic had began to create problems. So ‘Point Duty’ constables were trained and established at the main junctions on the main street Kingsway,  Jaffa Road and Stanton Street. The Arab Constables took great pride in their work and were almost theatrical in the way they gestured like a conductor with an orchestra.

These junctions were known as point duty pits and were a little bit like the mini roundabouts we have here. They had a ring of waist high sandbags round them and a large umbrella which acted as a shield against either the hot sun or the winter showers.

I generally used to share my shifts and any time off with the ‘Shift 4’ lads. We mostly worked the same hours and had the same free time. One day we were looking up our duty rota and saw we were all to be moved over to Point Duty. Great we thought, traffic was generally seen as a cushy number, it had shorter hours with more breaks.

We’d been drafted in because some of the Arab Constables had taken leave to make the journey to Mecca. We were issued with white sleeves which were pulled up over each arm and buttoned at the shoulder. After a couple of hours, I mastered the art of traffic control but without the spectacular arm waving of the regular constable. My pit was an especially busy one, the junction of the road to Mount Carmel, the main road to Acre and also the port area. As well as the commercial traffic, there were also tourist coaches as well as cars, motorbikes and horse and carts. Many of the young locals had a passion for American cars, with all the chrome headlights and radiator grills, in contrast I had been given a brief to allow horses right of way, something I took great delight in doing when stopping the screeching boy racers.

10 am, a few days later, I donned my white sleeves I set out for another day of my cushy number. I’d only being there five minutes when I heard a burst of rifle fire. Approaching from the area of the shooting came one of our police trucks heading for the port. As he drove round me he leaned over and shouted “Another happy hour up there” and drove on, neither of us thought too much about it, the happy hour was a regular occurrence.  I turned as I waved him on but then on turning round, coming towards me at full speed was a big American Packard saloon car with guns firing from front, rear and back windows. I didn’t hesitate, I threw myself face-down in the pit, followed by a shot to bits umbrella. The car screeched round the pit and sped off. I didn’t have a radio, so I couldn’t let anyone know but to be honest I was just happy to be alive. So much for the cushy number!

I related the story to the lads over a few beers in the evening. The car had also screeched past one of them, although they’d stopped firing by then. He’d spun round as it past at high speed but like me could do nothing about it. He then turned round to wave approaching right hand traffic and waiting patiently was a camel train, such were the contrasts of life in Palestine.

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2 Comments

  1. I have visited Haifa a couple of times and I have to say Alans articles bring back some nice memories. I can picture exactly where he was for his ‘point duty.’

  2. Thanks for another great article, it certainly wasn’t easy out there.

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