Alan Mills – End of the Mandate

We were coming towards the end of our time in Palestine, in March 1948 notices were distributed asking for volunteers for a token force to stay on in Palestine after the termination of the mandate.

I, along with a few others thought this sounded interesting, so I signed up, although there was no clear explanation of what the nature of our duties would actually be.

At midnight May 14th 1948, we ceased to be a police force. The previous November the UN had recommended the adoption and implementation of the Partition Plan for Mandatory Palestine. Borders for a new Jewish state were specified by the UN in a nutshell the state of Israel became a reality and our work was almost finished .Early the next day me and 59 other volunteers assembled at the Central Police Station and were loaded into five three ton trucks and driven out of Haifa on the Accra Road. About six miles from Accra we turned into a long private drive, which terminated at the doors of what originally was a modern Arab trade training school.

 

The accommodation was quite good, dormitories each holding about twenty beds, a good dining room and recreation room complete with snooker and table tennis tables. Within two days a bar full of bottled beer and bar manager were installed, we had no idea where the beer came from, probably from a redundant Naafi or Spinney’s canteen. We were also joined by another sixty volunteers, bringing our number up to 120.

 

Alan-Mills-State-of-Israel-is-BornThe only inconvenience was the hole in the floor toilets but it was something we had to live with, a bigger problem was the extra numbers meant we ran out of beer glasses, in those days nobody would be seen drinking straight from the bottle but one genius solved this by filling a bottle three quarters with water, tying a length of thick string soaked in petrol at exactly the waters height, then putting a match to the string. Within a minute the bottle cracked neatly on the water line, a major obstacle overcome!

 

The main building was complete with a clock tower and this provided a good all round view – natural position for a Brenn gun and crew. Together with the main gate guard and prowler patrol, we settled into an easy routine. We all came to the conclusion we were there as a token force, the army were still in Palestine so if they were here, we also had to be. In fact, all we were doing were guarding ourselves.

 

At the back of the trade school, there was a railway marshalling yard, with some of the lines going direct to the Haifa port area as well as Jerusalem. What limited traffic there was on these lines was now operated by the Royal Engineers, which mainly was shifting stores and equipment to Haifa for late evacuation. The rest of the yards were just a parking lot for defunct wagons and carriages. The area was deemed a security risk so not long after we arrived it was decided to send about twenty of us in there for prowler patrols. I was among the first twenty sent across and we were pleasantly surprised to find on arrival someone had square tents with six beds to a tent and also a mess tent. There was also a conventional toilet in one of the yard building which was to our relief in more ways than one! Also around half a mile down the road were the shores of Acre Bay, which was ideal to nip down for an early morning swim.

 

The first day we were in the ‘sub camp’ in the railway yard, early evening found me on my way to the toilet armed with some cigarettes and a multi purpose newspaper (we didn’t have the luxury of toilet rolls). As it was getting dark, I had to light a strip of paper to see my way in, I tentatively pushed the door open and wow..what a shock..something large, round and hairy scuttled from behind the pot and shot past me, believe me I just managed to hang onto what I had originally gone there to get rid of in the first place. I spent a relieved but uncomfortable five minutes or so in there lighting bits of paper and scattering them round the pot. Later back in the tent I related my tale of the tennis ball sized hairy thing with claws, nobody believed me and I became the good natured butt of everyone’s jokes for the evening and next few days.

 

The next day the prowler patrols were put into operation, pairs were sent to patrol the perimeter fences and roam around various trucks and carriages. The carriages themselves were fascinating, some were from the Cairo to Haifa Express, some were narrow gauge Hejas Railway coaches used by the Sultan of Turkey, others were fitted out to palatial standard with intricately woven upholstery and beautifully finished olive woods. I think they were used by Arab royalty and retinue for travelling over most of the Ottoman Empire. It seems such a pity these carriages of history were left rotting on a weed covered siding.

After out time on prowler patrol, we decided on a trip to the beach. It was a twenty minute walk over the sand dunes and as we approached the sea, we could see something ahead of us moving. This alerted us and weapons were brought to the ready as we observed and moved in slowly. The midday sun was beating down on us, the perspiration of potential danger and curiosity combined with the searing heat to stick our shirts to our backs and we tried to focus through the haze of the shimmering sand. Five of us were within 40 yards and we still had no inclination, we got to within 20 yards and one of us fired a warning shot, causing frenzied movement from the target. Fifteen yards away and it was clear the target was some kind of moving entity. Ten yards and I for one breathed easier. Our ‘target’ was a dead donkey which we learned later was being devoured by a hoard of land crabs – hairy things with claws, about the size of a tennis ball. My thoughts went back to my uncomfortable first visit to the railway toilet but at least I had proof my toilet nightmare actually existed.

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