DURING November big news excited us - we soon would move to Syria. From returning troops we heard tales of icy cold.
"Horrie is a desert dog despite his Greek campaign," said Feathers. "How will he stand up against bitter winds and snow and sleet?"
"Make him a uniform," ordered Poppa, "for service in Arctic regions."
Don offered an old greatcoat he had scrounged from a salvage dump. We cut off the tail, stood Horrie on my bunk and draped the piece of coat over him. He appeared dubious but guessed something new was in the wind.
As I snipped off the material at his stern end the Gogg advised, "Be careful of his rudder."
Horrie instinctively sat on his tail, so protecting that appendage from the scissors.
As we got time off duty and the uniform began to take shape we grew quite keen, as did the patient Horrie. We fitted the head and body and legs really neatly, allowing for a row of buttons down the belly. But then came a problem.
"How about his fly?" inquired Fitz, "he can't undo buttons, but he must have a fly."
"Could we make it like the sailors' trousers?" asked Feathers doubtfully. "Sailors appear to manage without buttons. I don't know how they do it, myself."
"How about Scots style - kilts" grinned the Gogg.
"Nit-wit!" snapped Poppa. "Scotsmen wear pants."
"How do you know?" inquired the Gogg.
"Anyway, the Wog-dog must wear pants," said Don, "otherwise he will freeze."
"I don't know what we are going to do about the tail, either," said Gordie. "It's only a stub of a thing and all gristle, but he uses it quite a lot."
"He uses everything quite a lot," said Fitz.
"To wrap his tail up might spoil his carriage," insisted Gordie.
"I don't know about the carriage," grinned Fitz, "but it would spoil his wagging.
"Funny one," growled Poppa, "you ought to be in the transport section."
"Wish I was. I'd dodge your tongue-waggin'," replied Fitz.
"Get on with the job," growled Poppa.
We overcame the difficulty by cutting a half-moon in the cloth around Horrie's rudder. Similarly with the other little difficulty. To the top of the neck-piece we sewed the unit colour-patch, braided the edges with tape, and made all complete except for the buttons by sewing two little gold corporal's stripes to the tunic over the right leg. We'd been wondering how we could obtain the buttons but a brainwave solved it. I engaged Feathers's attention by pointing out the excellent fit of the uniform while Don quietly snipped the buttons off Feathers's tunic which was hanging up on the tent pole. Feathers always did keep his buttons clean and shining.
Horrie was quaintly pleased with his new uniform; proudly he stepped out to do the rounds of the camp and show it to his many friends. They admired him so much that he swelled out until the suit nearly lost its buttons. He returned to us fairly treading on air but immediately growled menacingly and began searching to locate an Arab, for an Arab voice was harshly resounding throughout the tent. Then he made a dash for the wireless and I had to switch off the station.
It was about this time I received a mouth-organ from home and proceeded to enliven the Rebels' monotony.
"Can you play 'Far, Far Away?"' groaned Don.
"I'll try," I replied hopefully.
"Well, there's the direction!" and he pointed out the tent to the desert.
But Horrie was appreciative. His was a musical soul and he loved to sit back and howl accompaniment as only a Wog-dog can.
"You should train Horrie to sit up and hold your hat in his mouth," suggested Fitz. "It will earn you many a feed after the war."
"It's about all any of you will be good for," sighed Poppa.
"I can see you grinding a monkey-organ in Pitt Street," grinned Fitz.
"It's you will be holding the hat in that case," replied Poppa.
"I'll paint you a sign," volunteered the Gogg to me. "'Spare a coin for an old digger.' You can hang it round your neck while Horrie collects the coins."
But Horrie was faithful to me and my music.
At this period of our training, leave was fairly plentiful but on a percentage basis. This meant that seldom could more than two of the Rebels go together. When they returned, two more would go. Horrie always went. At the mere mention of leave he became very excited.
"Yes, Horrie, you can go if you know where your uniform is." And Horrie would run to the tent post and try to climb it in his eagerness to put on that uniform. Horrie was far and away the most travelled dog in Palestine; he had seen more of it than the majority of the troops. Its principal cities and many of the towns and villages were familiar to him. But now when he strutted about in his fine new uniform he became better known than ever. Troops that we seldom were in contact with recognized him, and civilians too.
"That's the little Wog-dog!" was a common exclamation as Horrie, at the head of a leave party, would march proudly along a street. Camps, soldiers' clubs, popular cafes, beaches, dance halls - wherever soldiers congregated Horrie was a familiar sight. If the boys turned into any of the numerous wine and spirit cafes in any town Horrie was there too; he'd sit up on the counter and drink his glass of milk with the best. No matter how many "shouts" there were Horrie would always accept his glass. Never would he let it be said he couldn't take it. He would waddle out of the cafe blown out like a barrage balloon.
But he was always the soldiers' dog; he would take no familiarity from any one except an Australian soldier in uniform. The Jewish and Arab cafe owners often tried to pat him but received in thanks a warning growl, as did civilians in the street. One day Don and I escorted two Australian nursing sisters on a tour of old Jaffa and although we spent the entire day with them Horrie most ungraciously would not allow them to pat him. He was a dyed-in-the-wool Diggers' dog and he recognized the Digger uniform only.
It was when due for a trip to Jaffa that Poppa advised me, "Be sure and visit Elijah's cave."
"Because the Jews reckon that any one unbalanced in mind becomes sane again if he visits the cave."
"Thanks. Isn't it time you paid the cave a visit?"
"I did," grinned Poppa, "'way back in 1918."
"Doesn't seem to have done you much good," remarked Fitz.
"That's because you can't distinguish the difference," replied Poppa. "You're overdue for a visit. In fact, it's so noticeable that the O.C. has ordered me to take all the Rebels there."
I did not visit Elijah's cave, but the Jews also say that any one suffering from nervous disorders becomes cured after a few days there. The cave is at the foot of Mount Carmel. The Arabs call Elijah the Prophet Al-Hader which means "The Green One". He was popular, and will be forever green in the memory of the Arabs.
A somewhat embarrassing incident occurred when I was booking in at the hotel at Haifa. The proprietor who spoke imperfect English inquired if I wanted a room "with or without". This could mean various things; perhaps it meant with or without a bathroom, or telephone, or anything. I thought he must have meant with or without the Wog-dog. So I answered "With".
Later, I'd comfortably snuggled down in my virtuous couch when the door softly opened. A vision glided in and paused with a hesitant smile at the menacing growl from Horrie. In the half-light from the passage way her big, dark eyes smiled inquiringly at me. Noiselessly the door closed and she was there. For a long startled moment, I did not realize that this was the "With".
After some wretchedly embarrassing explanations in which I pictured myself torn to death by a sweet young thing scorned, I managed to get rid of her with a suitable present. To make security doubly sure, I 'phoned the pro-prietor and impressed upon him that I had changed my mind, I wanted the room "Without".
The puzzled, silly ass again mistook me. I had just dozed into uneasy slumber when a growl from Horrie warned that trouble had come again. I opened startled eyes to find the room commandeered by a complete harem. You can only realize such a situation by experiencing it. Smiling beauties glided towards me, drifting all around the bed, giggling softly. Several of them became embarrassingly insistent.
In an awful pickle I tried to explain I preferred to sleep with my dog for company but they burst into silvery laughter and politely insisted they must have misunderstood me. Understandably so, for there was no comparison between their charms and the angry rumblings of the Wog-dog. The more I stuttered the more they chattered and giggled, trying to understand just what variety of girl I really did desire, and arguing around the bed while I huddled there in a perfect funk, hanging on to the indignant Horrie. Then they commenced giggling and chuckling and pointing at the outraged Wog-dog until neither he nor I could stand it any longer. I simply cleared out. It was the quickest evacuation of my military career.
At the next hotel I most definitely impressed upon a sleepy proprietor: "Without!!!"
I found that the "With" or "Without" is the custom even at the best hotels in Haifa.
But you may be sure I never mentioned that evacuation to the Rebels.
I overstayed leave as usual, and to make up time decided to risk the Wog bus. This bus was always full of Arabs returning from Haifa, but an uncomfortable ride in it meant I would save a few hours. The bus was loaded with a choice assortment of Arab cut-throats. Horrie was hotly indignant at being forced to mix with such company and expressed his sentiments in no uncertain manner. His growls and teeth-showing were acknowledged by dark scowls at us both. Those Arabs would have loved to draw a knife very slowly across Horrie's throat. Keeping a tight grip on the little fury, I manoeuvred for a seat at the back of the bus so that should trouble develop I would have only one front to protect. To cop what could easily develop into a nasty situation, a Digger very much the worse for wear staggered in just before we pulled out from Jaffa. Though Jaffa was then very much out of bounds for troops, it was easy to see the Digger had been hitting the high spots. Giving scowl for scowl he shouldered his way up through the bus and commandeered a seat in the middle. He hadn't noticed me away at the back but obviously he didn't care if he was alone amongst all the Arabs in Palestine. The bus started off and my anxiety increased as the Digger commenced to abuse the Wogs who retaliated with Arab curses. I shouted warnings to him, being anxious to keep the peace until the bus reached the main road, where help might be handy in the event of trouble. But an Arab spat in the Digger's eye.
He promptly punched the Wog and the bus was a howling bedlam of struggling humanity enlivened by the barking of the Wog-dog and roars from a Digger being kicked and clawed and trampled to death. I grabbed a fire extinguisher to swing it as a club but it started to spray and filled the bus with fumes. I used it like a Tommy gun and the Wogs panicked under the fumes; in one mass they surged to the front of the bus with Horrie at their heels. During this excitement, there was an awful swerve and crunch as the mob upset the driver and the bus thundered off the road. I went head over heels but still sprayed all around me, nearly suffocating Horrie who, with a demented Arab, fell across me. Fortunately the bus did not overturn but came to a bumping stop with gasping, nearly suffocated Arabs leaping off and making for the horizon. With a screech of brakes several big Australian trucks had pulled up and the men leapt down into the melee and grabbed the last of the nearly blinded Arabs. I yelled to the Aussies to lay off, for it really was all the Digger's fault. Gasping for my own breath I was still hazily wondering at the miraculous escape. We slung the digger into a truck and pushed off before the Red Caps should arrive. The Digger was unconscious; he'd received enough blows on the head to have killed three men but the luck of the drunk stuck to him. The boys in the truck dropped me near camp and took the Digger to a First Aid Post where I sincerely hoped he'd be forced to swallow the stiffest dose of salts ever administered.