With tribute to:

Martin Spirit

James Paul

Co-written by:

David Carter

Britain's Small Wars

The preservation of British Military History

Palestine 1945-1948

"Exodus & Outrage"

Smuggled to Cairo

By Ken Stevens

I was stationed in Jerusalem in 1945/6 at the end of over six years in the army - and demob was in sight. I was due for 14 days leave and together with my friend Ron Whitwam we had arranged to go to Cairo for our leave and also pay a visit to Luxor.

A few days before our leave the railways went on strike - I do not remember why. Whilst the daily troop train between Cairo and Haifa was unaffected it meant that it had to be restricted to those travelling on duty. My friend Ron, who still had some considerable time to go before his demob, was able to postpone his leave until the strike was over. I could not as even a week's delay would have brought me into the three months prior to my demob and you were not entitled to leave during that period.

I decided to go ahead with my trip to Cairo. I hitched a lift in one of our trucks to Sarafand - a huge military camp so large it had its own bus services running within the camp. By the time I arrived there I was hungry so I made for the Mess Hall and grabbed myself a meal - it appeared that as long as you were in army uniform no one questioned whether you were stationed on the camp. I sat at a table with a dozen or so others and we soon got talking. I explained my problem - I wanted to get to Cairo - a 20 odd hour train journey, but I couldn't get on the train. It turned out that the lads I was talking to were all from the Army Post Office Unit within the camp. They suggested I had a word with their Sergeant and when we had finished our meal they took me to him and explained my problem.

It was a problem no longer. I went with them on the afternoon postal truck to Lydda station and helped load the sacks of post into the large enclosed railway van - with my cap tucked in my epaulette with the badge not showing. I took the last bag into the truck - the sliding doors were pulled shut, locked and sealed with me inside. There was just enough light getting into the van for me to see and I had stocked up with food. I settled down to a long 20 hour plus journey.

The Postal Sergeant had telephoned to his counterpart in Cairo so that when we arrived the doors were opened, I started throwing the bags out to the Cairo Postal lads and then helped them push the trolley out of the station. When we were outside the station I thanked the Sergeant and they went off to wherever the army postal was located.

Now I had a problem. I had to report to the Military Police Office, which was near the station to get my Leave Pass stamped. But it was nine in the morning - how was I to explain how I had arrived in Cairo at that hour when I was not allowed on the troop train and there were no other trains running ? On the other hand I could not risk being picked up in Cairo by an M.P. without my Leave Pass being stamped.

I decided to bluff it out, marched into the office and presented my Leave Pass. He examined it, looked up at me and said 'You're stationed in Jerusalem- - how did you manage to get here ?' Without hesitation I replied 'I hitched a lift'. He looked at me for a moment, picked up his rubber stamp and banged it down on my Pass.

I quickly walked out of the office to spend the next 12 days trying to enjoy myself in Cairo. I say trying because Cairo could be a very lonely place on your own and I did not really enjoy it. However the train strike was over by the end of my leave so I had no problems in returning to Jerusalem.

I have often wondered why that M.P. who stamped my Pass didn't ask me the obvious question - 'How did you manage to hitch a lift and get here early morning when the whole of the Canal Zone is closed to all road traffic from dusk to dawn?'

I've never worked out what answer I would have given him either!

. K.J.Stevens 1995