THAT night in the Rebels' tent Don casually asked Poppa:
"Ever drunk any Wog cognac?"
"Only once," answered Poppa reminiscently, "during the last stoush in these parts in '18. I only drank a bottle or two. I woke up screaming; little blue mice were gnawing me to death. A large pink elephant saved me in the nick of time, he came rushing up trumpeting fire like a flammen-werfer and trampled the mice to death."
Leave to Jerusalem was granted the battalion. Pleasurable was the excitement when the Rebels' turn came with Sergeant Poppa in charge. Very excited was the Wog-dog all done up in his new corporal's uniform. The Rebels in a body boarded the leave-bus, Horrie the first aboard.
These leave-buses each held thirty men. The drivers were Arabs and wilder men at the wheel you wouldn't find anywhere in the world. They'd simply turn on the juice, trust the lives of all to Allah, and let her go. They'd grin from ear to ear as the bus roared along with the boys yelling "Let her go, George, let her go!" They needed no encouragement; those drivers made the hair rise on my head, for a mistake of inches along portions of the hilly road meant the bus must go hurtling far below. There was barely room for two buses to crawl past one another.
The judgment of the drivers was miraculous; in truth, again and again the good Allah did look after us. A toot behind was never the signal to the driver that another bus wished to pass, it was the signal for a race. And a race it was, with the driver's grin set and his eyes sticking out like pickled onions as we took hairbreadth bends on two wheels with the rival bus roaring up beside us filled with cheering, carefree soldiers.
"Head and head!" the boys would yell as the buses drew level. "Beat him on the post, George!" "Shave his wheel, George!" "Topple him in the ditch, George!" It was impossible not to laugh and thrill even though the opposing bus was wearing us down with little more than a coat of paint separating the vehicles.
I'd breathe a sigh of relief at sight of the walls of Jerusalem far below.
Our first job in Jerusalem was to buy Corporal Horrie's identity disc. We filed into a cubicle, the metal worker squatting there tinkering at his trade as his forefathers had done for centuries. We handed him a Greek two-drachma coin, a souvenir from Greece for the purpose. The master craftsman bent over his work and with the tools of a thousand years ago neatly inscribed on the coin Horrie's name, number, and unit.
"Horrie, E.X.1. 2/1 M/G. Bn." The E.X.1 was a "special", it meant that Horrie was No. 1 warrior from Egypt. The coin, his historic identity disc with the unit colour patch were attached to the harness which he so proudly wore.
"There's never been a soldier-dog so well dressed up as he," said Sergeant Poppa admiringly.
And the Wog-Dog proudly wagged his stump.
"Better keep a tight grip on him," advised the Gogg.
We did. There was a fanatical light in Horrie's eye. Around us was the shuffling of thousands of his enemies, surly-visaged Arabs, and folk of every Eastern nation.
The sight of the little Wog-dog leading, almost pulling us through the streets of Jerusalem created an interest not unmixed with laughter at Horrie's menacing growls. From a crowd of noisy guides we selected a laughing little chap who declared he was the "son of Sandy McKenzie".
He took us first to the Wailing Wall built by King Solomon in 1000 B.C. It is one of the holiest of Jewish shrines; shrouded figures even now seemed to be clutching the base of the age-old wall. At night these old rocks are moist with a dew said to be shed by the rocks from weeping in unison with the Jews. A legend says that long ago the old wall had been lost to sight by time and the refuse tumbled upon it during the numerous battles in which the old city was finally put to the sword. In time, a shrewd king wished the wall uncovered and to save labour threw handfuls of coins upon the earth that buried it. The Jews of Jerusalem uncovered the wall by scraping the earth away while seeking the coins. Judging by the prices charged the Australian soldiers for articles they bought in Jerusalem, there is truth in this legend.
"Sandy McKenzie" next guided us to the Bazaar, showing us the old city first. We were indeed away back thousands of years ago. The bazaar was like the warrens of an under-ground city. The narrow streets were roofed after the style of an arcade into which light filtered through narrow slits in the roof. Under this medieval arrangement the light filtered down through drifting dust and smoke. Through the gloom came the shuffling of many feet as mysterious figures glided past. From the windows of tiny jewellers' shops dim lamps reflected gleams of light from jewels. Here and there, exposed to the open street, was a butcher's shop with meat swarming with flies. Fruit and vegetable stalls extended across the footpaths and even on the roads along which many little donkeys slowly came, bowed down under giant burdens. On top of these great loads solemnly squatted the owner, lord and master. Struggling on foot behind would come the wife, also loaded with goods, while behind her would trudge the children according to age, also heavily loaded. This use of women and children as beasts of burden used to make the troops very angry in Egypt and Palestine.
From many gloomy shops in the walls, dim figures bent over brass and bronze, copper and gold and silver work, squatted and smoked and waited and toiled and gossiped as their forefathers had done for thousands of years. Throughout wars and pestilence and famine, throughout plenty and desperation, throughout the uttermost heights of glory to the most terrible depths of despair has Jerusalem survived for thousands of historic years.
Black-clad Arab women peered at us over cloaks drawn up just below flashing black eyes. A hooded head-dress covered the head to the forehead; silver and copper coins hung from the forehead over the nose. Everywhere was the murmur of guttural, hoarse, soft or whispering voices haggling over prices of wares.
"I wonder what those little flags mean," nodded Fitz to small flags drooping dejectedly over gloomy dwelling holes. "Sandy McKenzie" explained.
A white flag advertised that therein hopefully waited a marriageable daughter. A blue flag meant that an unmarried mother with child waited within, ready for a personable husband who wished a family ready-made. A black flag meant a widow for whose marriage a father was willing to pay a dowry. A green flag meant that the occupant was absent on a holy pilgrimage to Mecca.
We wandered for long, intensely interesting hours in the old city; here we lived again in the East unchanged since the days of Christ.
What a contrast to pass from the old city, to the new, to walk from two thousand years ago straight into today. The new city was a place of modern buildings, and clean, wide concrete roads along which taxis smoothly hurried. The traffic was directed by tall Englishmen clothed in the blue uniform and white helmet of the Palestine Police. There were modern picture theatres. And here on the screen was flashed in English, French, Arabic and Yiddish the interpretation of the play. Wide concrete footpaths reflected light so glaringly, that ninety per cent of the people wore sun-glasses. The modern shops displayed glittering jewellery and vivid and gorgeous silks. The sober, dark gowns of priests of many religions mingled with the bright flimsy frocks and the sporty, gay coloured shorts and closely fitting sweaters of Miss Jerusalem. Large, open cafes had their marble- and glass-topped tables and chairs extending on to the footpaths, protected from the sun by gaily coloured veranda blinds, reminiscent of Paris. The men wore grey slacks and light, open-necked silk shirts. This was a modern city of carefree atmosphere.
One night soon after our arrival in Palestine we were awakened by Horrie's frantic bark; something in that bark brought nightmare memories of Greece and Crete and instinctively we were flying for the slit trenches. The bombs whined down and exploded but nobody was hurt. It was only a lone night raider, but all the same Horrie was on the alert.
At daylight, Horrie quietly slipped out to inspect the bomb craters. He found an Arab there who was also curious. Horrie immediately attacked and returned growling to the tent with his mouth full of Arab pants.
Meanwhile, energetic training went on apace amongst a great army congregating throughout the length of Palestine. Our crowd though felt very uneasy for there were increasing rumours of a new campaign about to break out in Syria and those many thousands of us who had lost our arms in Greece and Crete were not yet re-equipped.
"What are the chances?" growled Murchie.
"Live in hopes," answered Sergeant Poppa. "You can bet your life the heads are doing all in their power to re-equip us."
But the old war-horse was plainly anxious, as were thousands of other men throughout Palestine. We did not want to be left out of any stunt.
We were only just beginning to realize fully the disasters that had overtaken our forces in Greece and Crete - the fateful losses in men, ships, and material, the miraculous fight the small Navy had put up, a Navy we now knew was fearfully battered in ceaseless fights against over-whelming odds. We realized the desperate struggle now being waged to keep us supplied with bare necessities, let alone the difficulties of manufacture and transport from Britain of great quantities of new material.
But an event occurred in the life of the Rebels that overshadowed the anxieties of war.
The search started in earnest. The whole battalion, or those men off duty, searched the camps for miles around armed with his photograph. Many a false clue was followed up, to no avail.
We were in despair.
On the ninth day a leave party left for Tel Aviv, forty miles away. Don Gill was with them.
They were walking down a street in Tel Aviv when an excited bark halted them. There was the Wog-dog streaking across the street, dodging the dangerously moving traffic. He leaped at Don, tried to eat him. He was in a shocking state, skinny as a rake, covered in oil and tar. The boys took him to a restaurant and fed him on the chicken in the sandwiches. They ate the bread themselves.
We never learned how Horrie had travelled that forty miles to Tel Aviv. He may have been commandeered by some foul renegade; being a Rebel dog he more probably went A.W.L.; simply jumped on a leave-bus, and took a trip to town.
Tel Aviv is a modern city, although thirty years ago it was but desolate sand dunes. The Jewish inhabitants of Jaffa built the city from money supplied by the Jewish National Fund. The Jews mostly moved to Tel Aviv, leaving ancient Jaffa to the Arabs.
In our wanderings, we strolled over many of the last war battlefields of Palestine. One of these was Gaza, city of Samson. Numbers of the stone houses still bore signs of our shelling while on the slopes of Ali Muntar we could still find souvenirs of the terrible fighting that took place on that grim Turkish redoubt. Throughout both Syria and Palestine, as we travelled by train and truck, we used to wonder again and again how the Anzacs successfully fought for hundreds of brazen miles right through this country. They had only horses for transport. We had trucks and tanks and trains and aeroplanes. Their only water in the Sinai Desert was in the far scattered oases, while we had reservoirs and a pipeline beside us. We often wondered how they did it and pushed a fighting enemy back ahead of them.
But near tragedy was looming over the Rebels after all this time of close comradeship. Action was soon to break out across Syria and the Rebels would not be in it.
Many of the troops were not yet re-equipped. We had to remain in Palestine. Murchie had become more and more restless, Poppa more and more gloomy. Sergeant Poppa had an idea that no war could be properly won unless the Rebels were in the vanguard.
"The 2/3 M/G. Battalion looks like being in it," said Murchie. "What about applying for a transfer to their unit and seeing the fun?"
"Easier said than done," answered Poppa. "There are enough boys applying for transfer to stock a new army."
"How about Horrie?" I asked. "He may not be accepted as part of their show like he is here."
"We couldn't go anywhere without him now," smiled Don.
Horrie sat on my bed with his ear cocked, listening intently.
"The little fellow understands every word we say," said Poppa as he patted the Wog-dog.
Horrie's expression certainly meant, "Don't leave me behind, please."
We talked until long into the night, weighing the pros and cons. But in the long run it was only Murchie who succeeded in gaining a transfer.
"After the show in Syria is over I'll rejoin you blokes quick and lively," he promised cheerfully. We knew he would if possible and we were glad to see him his old cheerful self again. Murchie was born for action. But we were awfully sorry to lose him and he tried to hide his sorrow at leaving us, even temporarily. His last words were: "Good luck, you chaps; and good luck, little Wog-dog."
Horrie knew he was losing a staunch friend; he stood on his hind legs and rested his paws on Murchie's knee as Murchie knelt to pat him. Long after he was out of sight Horrie sat outside the tent gazing in the direction Murchie had taken.
We never saw Murchie again. In the far-flung move-ments of a world war, units once separated do not always rejoin.
Murchie is in Java now. We picture him as still holding out in the hills with some wild band of guerrillas, fighting jungle ambushes as he fought with his battered truckload of New Zealanders and Greeks during that desperate retreat from Greece.
Somehow we feel confident that we will see Murchie again; after it is all over, the Rebels will stage their grand reunion.