Alan Mills

Conscription- The Road to Palestine…Run in with the Red Caps in Toulon
Memories of a bygone era from East Leeds resident Alan Mills

Less than two weeks after his interview with the Palestine Police, Alan found himself in the French port of Toulon, awaiting a troop ship to Port Said, still dressed in his pin striped suit and flashy tie.

After about thirty five hours of French trains, we all had splinters from the wooden lattice seats and our patience severly tested by the slow chugging and frequent stops of the train – but then the French railway system had suffered more than ours did. (The war had ended just twelve months before.)

We arrived in Toulon the Mediterranean Port in the South of France where we were to catch a troop ship to Port Said in Egypt. As it turned out, the boat was under repair and we had a few days kicking our heels in Toulon.
We waited on the platform of the station while a party of Airborne Division soldiers who were stationed in the town unloaded our luggage onto a trolley. As we began to gather round the trolley I came face to face with one of the soldiers, we just stood and gaped at each other in amazement. His name was Trevor James and a couple of years previously we’d played together in the pipe band, where he was the young Drum Major. Anyway, meeting him like this called for a reunion drink, so I met up with him and a few of the Airborne lads for a night out in Toulon.
A couple of evenings later, found us settled outside a simple, neat French Cafe. We didn’t reckon much to the local beer, so we changed to the local wine which was cheaper by the bottle. Well, after a few of these I was feeling quite relaxed, well actually well intoxicated and at sometime during the evening I’d acquired an Airborne Red Beret, (which didn’t look quite right with my pin strip suit and flashy tie.)
As I was sprawled on one of the cafe chairs, a jeep full of Military Police (Red Caps) screeched to a halt outside and came marching towards us. Now I guess I was a bit green round the ears, all my drinking pals somehow melted into the background. So there I was, first time out of England, sprawled out, very drunk, with an MP screaming in my face, “Who the hell are you?” I told him to get lost, not in quite such polite terms and at this he seized me by the lapels and pulled me out of the chair. Well I didn’t really like his company so I placed both my hands on his chest and gave him a hard shove which caught him off guard and he stepped backwards and fell over an overturned chair, where astonishingly, he finished flat on his back.

All hell broke loose, there was a rush of military boots and I finished up under a heap of them. I was then ‘gently’ frog marched back to their jeep, where the questions began..“Was I a merchant seaman who’d jumped ship? Was I in the army? Had I deserted? I’d barely being out of England three days and her I was slavering incoherently, trying to answer their bullet fired questions. At last one of them asked if I’d any papers on me. “Yes of course,” after a bit of fumbling I produced my passport . After it was eagerly scrutinized, I couldn’t believe the change of attitude. My passport simply said Profession; Palestine Police. All of a sudden it was hand shakes and back slapping apologies although I was worried about the confrontation and how it would be with the Sergeant in charge of our party. This was resolved by a glowing report from the MP’s and they even gave me a lift back to the barracks, where I resolved never to drink again…’til next time.

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