As part of our celebrations of 70 years of Israeli Independence we are publishing an article each month. These articles are written by our members about their personal experiences of Israel. This is the first article and is written by charles Jackson about his time in Egypt in 1947/48
At the start of 1947, I was with the British army, all male unit, stationed at a base ammunition depot in Egypt. Also at the camp was an independent Jewish unit, and surprisingly, German prisoners of war. We had no drivers; the German p.o.w’s did all the driving including our armoured vehicles.
That Pesach, the Jewish unit found out that I was the only Jew in a unit of well over 300, and invited me to join them at a Seder service to be held at the army headquarters some 20 miles away. Very shortly after, the Jewish unit left, leaving me as the only Jew at the base.
When it came to having a break, most went to Palestine, but I was instructed to see our commanding office, and told bluntly that I could not go to Palestine, as he was sure I would not return.
Fast forward to 13/14 May 1948, when late at night there was a loud rumbling of heavy vehicles passing our depot. This was the Egyptian army going to stop Israel becoming a state, and thankfully they failed. (Somewhere I have a couple of photos of a few of the armoured vehicles passing by).
Shortly after, when the Egyptians were desperate to re-arm, I was guard commander on my first 24 hour duty at the depot (Prior to this I only did 12 hour shifts around the perimeter, not the main entrance). Again all the train drivers bringing rail trucks in and out were employed by the Egyptian State Railway. As an engine was about to leave, I ordered the guards to stop it and carry out a search to see if any ammunition was being “stolen”. The driver was reluctant to come out of his cabin until he saw the armed guard surrounding his engine, and sure enough, under the engine, was a large box of ammunition. I arrested the driver and contacted the depot to come and collect him. After many calls, around 5 hours later, the driver was collected.
On completing this duty and returning to the camp, instead of getting a couple of hours rest before going to normal work, I was instructed to see my commanding officer, who without mincing his words, wanted to know what the hell I was doing as I had put the part of the Egyptian State Railway servicing our base on strike. I just stated that was the job that I was there to do, but it appeared that no one else had stopped an engine. To resolve the matter, I was told that I would return to being guard commander on 12 hour duties only, and the drivers would return to work.
It was then that I promised myself that as soon as I could I would visit Israel. It was not until 44 years ago that I made my first visit, and apart from 2 years, have never missed going each year.
Some time ago on such a visit I met Rabbi Morowitz who was responsible for raising funds for Laniado Hospital, Netanya, and the Tessler School of nursing at the hospital, and also helped with the orphanage/children’s home nearby. I was hooked.
Through members of my family, over the years, I have raised money to purchase 8 beds in memory of members of the family. Also, at the time I was chairman of the Harlow Jewish Community, I introduced that part of our Kol Nidre appeal was for the orphanage/children’s home, and most years I have personally taken the money out and discussed what it was to be spent on. I also decided that to help the Tessler School of nursing by giving their students scholarships, I would make New Year cards, and all of the proceeds would pay for a scholarship. This I still do and whilst the demand for the cards is now low, I am still supported by generous donations.
By Charles Jackson