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To War With The Bays: 23 - Friends Reunited

...There were a lot of chameleons on some bushes nearby. We brought some into the tent, put them on our beds, and they entertained us by flicking out their long tongues to catch flies. We tied a string between two poles and they would walk along it, clinging with their 'hands' and tails. They were olive green in colour, but if you picked one up and put it on something red, it would take on a red tinge: move it to something yellow and it changed to yellow...

Jack Merewood finds unsual "entertainments'' as he continues to recover from wounds received in a tank battle.

To read earlier chapters of Jack's vivid story please click on To War With The Bays in the menu on this page.

One day some more people arrived and I was amazed to find that one of them was Haydn Boothroyd, a boy who lived next door to me at home. We had lived next door to each other since we were children. It was a big surprise for both of us.

I'd been there eight days when a convoy arrived and I was delighted to see that one of the men was Ronnie. He was billeted in a tent, and soon I was moved to one about 300 yards away, so we saw each other regularly.

There was a NAAFI there with a good reading room; also a hut which served as a cinema, so we saw a few films. More than anything we looked forward to the mail coming, but it only came spasmodically and one day there were twenty letters and two newspapers for Ronnie.

There were a lot of chameleons on some bushes nearby. We brought some into the tent, put them on our beds, and they entertained us by flicking out their long tongues to catch flies. We tied a string between two poles and they would walk along it, clinging with their 'hands' and tails. They were olive green in colour, but if you picked one up and put it on something red, it would take on a red tinge: move it to something yellow and it changed to yellow.

The camp had an old bus, in which the padre once a week ran a trip to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Ronnie, Haydn and I went and thoroughly enjoyed it. We left the camp at 8 a.m. and arrived back at 9.15 in the evening. We saw the place in Jerusalem where Christ was tried by Pilate, many of the famous churches, the Temple, the Wailing Wall, and the Garden of Gethsemane, a sombre, almost gloomy place. It wasn't difficult to picture Jesus praying there.

The padre said that some of the big gnarled olive trees were so old that they could have been there when Christ was alive. In Bethlehem we saw the star on the floor of the church where Jesus was reputed to have been born, and the fields where the shepherds 'watched their flocks by night'. We also went round a workshop where they were making souvenirs out of mother-of-pearl.

We were paid every week, but the amounts varied. One week we had 3,000 mils (about 3), the next 500 (about 50p). Money not spent in the NAAFI and on stamps was usually 'spent' on playing cards.

At one time we decided I would look after both Ronnie's money and mine. I got involved in a game of three card brag. I had a good hand, ace, king, queen, and I bragged and bragged and when I bragged my last coin I had to see the other man's hand. He had an AKQ too, and having called him, I lost. For a few days we were completely broke. Ronnie treated it as just one of those things, though I felt very guilty about it.

One day we were granted weekend passes to go to Tel Aviv, which struck us as a clean and pleasant place. We found a good hotel, ate well, and walked on the sea front. I noticed a sign outside a building which had a man's name and then underneath TEACHER OF LAGUAGES.

Another time six of us were invited to an exclusive club in Jaffa. Out on a lawn we had afternoon tea and the people there were really kind and friendly.

My leg wasn't getting better quickly enough for my liking so I volunteered to go on a PT course for an hour each morning. After three days my leg was sore, and the instructor said I had to give up the leg exercises. Another three days and he said I must give it up altogether as it wasn't doing me any good.

On Monday, 7 September, 1942, Ronnie was told he would be going out of the camp on the coming Thursday. Also that Monday I had to go to the board room, where I was interviewed and told I might be sent to South Africa. I had heard that seriously wounded men were sometimes sent there to recuperate, and I later learned that was where Dick Rowney had gone.

Ronnie went on the Thursday, and as I had heard no more about South Africa, I asked if I could leave. I did so the following Monday and noted in my diary: 'Handed borrowed kit in this morning, so that leaves me with one pair of socks, one pair of pants, one pair of shorts, one shirt and one towel!'

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