JUST before we moved off for Syria, Big Jim walked into the tent.
"Could you have Corporal Horrie here on parade at 2 p.m.?" he smiled. "An unexpected visitor wishes to see him."
"Who is he?" I asked.
"You'll find out at 2 o'clock. You'll be surprised," and Big Jim walked away.
The surprise was Captain J. J. Hindmarsh. We thought him a prisoner of war with the Germans in Greece, but by some mysterious channel he had escaped and had now caught up with the unit in Palestine. Horrie rushed him with delighted tail-wagging.
"Good little Wog-dog," said the captain, "so you remember me." Horrie certainly did.
"I've often wondered about the little Wog-dog and whether you'd managed to stick to him," smiled the captain after our greetings were over. We were doubly pleased; the captain had always been popular, as was our present O.C., Captain S. Plummer. We had been considerably disturbed at the news that Captain Plummer was to be transferred to a new command, not only because he was a popular O.C. but also because he was a friend of the Wog-dog. We had been very uneasy as to whether the new O.C. would have any time for Horrie. But the problem was solved. Captain Hindmarsh was to be O.C. and Horrie's luck was holding.
Soon, the long convoys were moving through Palestine into Syria, Horrie and ourselves well pleased to be on the road again. At Damascus a beautiful avenue of gum-trees drew delighted calls from us. The convoy stopped a few moments and every man breathed in the clean, sweet scent of the gums. What lingering memories of home they brought.
Damascus is said to be the oldest city in the world. Whether or no, it is mentioned in the Book of Genesis as existing in the time of Abraham. It to us was a very colourful city, the effect being added to by all nationalities in their national costumes. Persians, Moslems, Afghans, Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Jews, Jebel Druses, French - all manner of peoples and customs and languages. Each year thousands of the devout pass through here on the long pilgrimage to Mecca. One name for this city of thousands of historical years is the "Gate of Mecca". Another is "Pearl of the East", and "City of Many Pillars".
We travelled north along the Lebanon Valley to the town of Baalbek, in faraway days the city of Heliopolitan Zeus, a city of pagan worship when the great temple was destroyed by lightning and fire. The Romans took the city, many nations in turn fought for it and captured it, and three big temples which formed the Acropolis of Baalbek were turned into a fortress by the Moslems. If we could but turn back the pages of time, what fascinating stories of mankind we would see.
Towering above the old city of Baalbek still stand six huge columns of the Temple of Jupiter. I wonder how many millions of vanished people have knelt there.
As we travelled up the Valley of Lebanon, Horrie lost interest in the passing scenes. It was bitterly cold and the. mountain-tops were white with snow. At the small village of Zaboude we camped in Nissen huts for seven weeks; the snow slid off the rounded roofs which were anchored by cables to prevent the hurricane winds from blowing them away. In spite of his warm uniform, Horrie felt the cold keenly, and to get warmth, thought out a plan of his own. one morning after stand-to, he came shivering out of the hut with a question mark in his eye and a sock in his mouth. Trotting up to a soldier he scampered away to return and plainly say, "Chase me!" The soldier did so and we laughed at Horrie's elusive dodging. Soon, we were all chasing him. He played these "chasings" each morning afterwards; he was ridiculously small and we never could grab him. It was always we who became tired first.
We liked the natives of Syria. They appeared to be a refreshingly decent type. But Horrie detested them and those who visited us from the village avoided him like the plague. They were sports and eager gamblers. We were surprised at their aptitude for our Great National Game until they laughingly reminded us that Australians had been here before - in 1918. Those Aussies left some good Aussie cuss words and the Great National Game, besides other things scattered throughout Sinai, Palestine and Syria. These locals eagerly joined in any game of two-up, gambling heavily but shrewdly. The boys called them "grouter betters" because they would wait until three or four heads or tails fell in succession before placing their bets. They thus put their faith in the law of averages that the next fall of the pennies would probably turn up the opposite to that which had fallen in succession. They were very lucky too.
Another habit the old-time Diggers had planted here was the "Toss". Often when troops or natives could not agree upon the price of some souvenir, the native would suggest "Toss?". It was always agreed upon, and they would put the disputed price to the toss of a coin.
But rain and mud came, and an icy wind howled up the valley. Then something happened which plunged the Rebels into gloom, and spread anxiety throughout the entire camp.
Horrie became sick.
We did everything we possibly could for him. We wrapped him in our warmest blankets, kept rocks heated in a fire and put them under his bed and replaced them with fresh warm ones when they grew cold, tempted him with a special diet of milk and porridge, and gave him all the comfort and petting we possibly could. But he was very, very sick.
"Something will have to be done about that blasted door!" snapped Poppa. For despite all his warmth, when the door opened even for a moment Horrie shivered in the icy draught. The hut was heated by a small wooden heater but there were so many inquiries about Horrie's progress that the door was continually opening.
"Shut that b--y door!" roared Poppa again and again as some luckless caller poked his nose in to inquire about Horrie.
"We'll print a two-hourly bulletin," declared Poppa, "then they needn't open the door. Here Gogg, print a damn big notice DON'T OPEN THIS DOOR! Paint it on a board and hang it up outside the door; then we'll nail a two-hourly bulletin underneath. After that, if any nit-wit dares open that door I'll shoot him!"
We fixed it that way. On the board under the notice we tacked the bulletin twice daily, sometimes oftener. The bulletin was written on an envelope. One I have beside me reads thus: "This door when opened admits a cold wind which lessens our chance of keeping the Wog-dog warm. The condition of Horrie continues grave. He answers to his name only by opening his eyes. He accepted only a little warm porridge during the morning. Everything possible is being done to keep him warm, so don't muck it up by opening the door. Further bulletin will be issued at 1700 hours (5 p.m.)."
But we grew increasingly miserable over Horrie; he was a very sick little dog. We hardly spoke above a whisper and stayed awake at night keeping the stones hot for his bed. And then - we dare not let ourselves think he was dying. We were near the depths of despair when the miracle happened.
Imshi arrived. A very lively little Imshi in a beautiful new uniform, snug and warm. It happened this way.
I was on duty at our signal office, a little tin shed, when in walked Bruce McKellar.
"Where on earth did you spring from?" I cried.
"We just arrived," he grinned, "the complete 1st Aus-tralian Anti-tank Regiment. We've to camp quite near you. How's the Rebels and the Wog-dog?"
"He's very ill," I answered. "Seems to have caught a severe chill and we don't seem able to do anything about it; we're very worried. By the way, is Imshi with you?"
"The section she's with should be here any time now."
"By Jove, that's good! I wonder if the sight of her would brighten Horrie up a bit!"
"I'll bring her across as soon as she arrives," promised Mac.
At midday, with Imshi under my arm, we strode across to the hut. The Rebels were all there with some signaller cobbers clustered around the heater. There wasn't a whimper from the tiny figure wrapped up in the blanket by -the fire.
"Horrie," I said cheerily, "look who's here!" and I put Imshi beside him.
She sniffed inquiringly at the swathed up little head, then yapped delightedly and energetically kissed his nose.
Horrie's eyes opened, opened wider. Then he struggled up, she kissed his nose; he wriggled out of the blanket. His tail waggled furiously, he kissed Imshi, she kissed him, Horrie yelped in delight and pranced around Imshi and kissed her again.
"You damned little malingerer!" exploded Gordie.
We gazed at the little corpse so suddenly come to life again; it fairly took our breath away.
"Well," said Sergeant Poppa slowly, "I've seen a good many wars, a good many years soldiering, I've seen a good many dinkum malingerers but this fair takes the bun!"
"Love's magic touch!" chuckled Fitz as the two excited dogs kissed again.
"Love me eye!" growled Poppa. "I'd just love to give him pack drill and fatigues!"
Neither Horrie nor Imshi took the slightest notice; they were busy now examining each other's uniforms with a critical approval comical to watch. Imshi admired the braid and the corporal's gold stripes upon Horrie, who strutted his stuff wonderfully.
"Here," I said, "bed is the best place for sick little-Wog-dogs!" and seized him and tucked him securely back in the box.
"And what's more," declared Don, "stay there and don't attempt to get out!"
"That'll teach you to put the old soldier act over us!" grinned Feathers.
Horrie popped his chin over the box and gazed appealingly at us, and Imshi.
"Take your little flirt back to Camp, Mac," I said, "in case Horrie's pulse rises a bit too much."
That evening a special bulletin was issued on the notice board: "The Wog-dog's girl friend, Imshi, is now at his bedside. Don't panic. The services of the padre will not be needed. Horrie now shows a decided interest in life after this visit of his girl friend. Wouldn't you?"
I was first up next morning and on opening the door there was Imshi waiting to visit Horrie. She trotted across to his box and he gazed at me pleadingly.
"Oh all right," I said, "off you go, you little rascal," and Horrie leaped out of the box and away they trotted to investigate the bushes round the camp.
Horrie's recovery was miraculous; we certainly had been fearful we were going to lose him. However, Imshi worked the miracle.
Several days later, in the early morning, Horrie's familiar bark sounded at the door and one of the signallers opened it for him. In he trotted with Imshi at his heels both covered from head to tail in red mud and looking very pleased with themselves.
"You dirty little wretches," exclaimed Don as they joined us at the heater. "Your uniforms are sopping wet too."
"Better take 'em off and dry 'em," growled Poppa, "or we'll have both of them sick in bed next. One at a time is bad enough."
"If we put 'em in together," grinned Fitz, "they'd never get up."
"You dirty little grub," scolded Feathers as he scraped mud off Horrie's uniform, "why can't you be a dinkum soldier, all spick and span?"
But Horrie only grimaced and took it as a compliment, as did Imshi while Don tried to scrape the mud off her. Just then her master's voice floated across to us from the anti-tank camp.
"There you are, now you're in for it!" said Don, as Imshi obediently trotted to the door. I opened it for her while Feathers held Horrie.
"You just stay here until you're dry," he scolded. "No more scaring the life out of us with a bad cold."
"What about her coat!" asked Don as Imshi vanished.
"Let Horrie take it to her," suggested the Gogg and taking Imshi's uniform down from the drying-rack, he handed it to Horrie. "Take Imshi's coat to her," he ordered, and Horrie eagerly took it in his mouth and raced out the door.
"Hold on a minute - here's Imshi's coat!" Don yelled to Imshi's master.
Imshi and her boss halted and turned round; Imshi trotted back to meet Horrie. But instead of dropping the coat, Horrie invited her to play.
"Hand that uniform back, you scoundrel!" we heard Imshi's master shout. But Horrie held the uniform invitingly and as Imshi reached for it he ran back tantalizingly. Imshi followed and he ran back a little way again. We laughed from the doorway as Imshi's master chased Horrie, who made back for the doorway with Imshi at his heels. They made straight for the heater where Horrie sat down. Imshi gazed at him a moment then sat down beside him.
"The cunning little blighter has brought her back again," laughed Gordie. When her master came puffing into the hut we explained Horrie's scheme.
"You don't have to tell me anything about it," he declared. "The little so-and-so spends half his time kidding her away from our camp; hes cunning as a bagful of monkeys."
"Imshi doesn't seem to mind," said Fitz.
"I know she doesn't, and I've warned her about his ways a score of times."
Grim and forbidding, the mountains rose sheer up from the valley to snow-covered tops. They were rocky and barren, with scarcely a tree, but covered in places with scraggy scrub. Sometimes through the icy night the creepy howl of a wolf would come floating down from the mountains. We'd often wished for an exploring trip amongst those rocky fastnesses with maybe a shot at wolf, cheetah or gazelle. So one morning very early Don and I set out. Immediately we were up against the problem of Horrie, joyously leading the way.
"What on earth are we going to do with him?" said Don.
"Blessed if I know," I replied. "He wouldn't make much of a mouthful for a wolf."
But we'd started, and hadn't the heart to order the little fellow back.
He was on the hunt all right and immediately nearly got us into trouble by rounding up a score of huge blacks. Previously we had taken considerable interest in these cheery giants on the few occasions when we had come in contact with them. All six-footers and built in proportion, they were jet black with large, squat noses, flashing eyes, and fine white teeth. It was their laughter and cheeriness that got us. They had apparently been recruited as a labour battalion. Their officers were Tommies, their N.C.Os their own men. They spoke very little English; we believed them to be Africans from Bechuanaland, but weren't sure. They were well wrapped up in woollen scarves and Balaclavas and were dressed in the Tommy regulation battle-dress. They must have felt the cold terribly; it was bitter weather to us, and these men were obviously from an even hotter climate than ours. We admired the way they took it with unfailing cheerfulness. The boys told us there had been a panic among them when the first snows fell. Never having seen snow flakes before, they thought it was a gas attack and rushed to don their gas masks. None laughed so heartily afterwards as themselves.
On this particular day a score of them were digging a tank-trap some three miles north of our gun positions, just where we were to turn off to climb the mountains. Horrie spotted them and charged.
"Oh heavens!" groaned Don, "we're in for it now!"
There came a sudden howl, then a yell of laughter. We saw big black forms leaping down into the pit with a tiny white fury snapping at their heels as we ran up shouting at Horrie. But Horrie was determined to capture the lot; yelping hysterically he took not the slightest notice of us. His strategy was to drive every man down into the pit. When we arrived the pit was a roar of laughter with some blacks running up the sides of the pit while the men opposite ran down. The frantic Horrie raced round and round to chase back those men escaping. Other huge blacks leapt up on their friends' backs to escape the maddened Horrie who now would concentrate on one until he had him leaping back down the slope, then rush at another who was climbing up the opposite bank. Seeing these cheery chaps were simply revelling in the joke we sat down to regain breath and look on. They played up to him, never quite escaping, always on the point of doing so until the little fellow's legs began to wobble, his tongue hanging out, his eyes bleary, his bark growing less and less. All those big black heads, those great big eyes, those flashing teeth laughing up at him, drove Horrie to a frenzy of despair. When he got them all down into the trap he pantingly sat down but a huge black had crawled along the bottom of the pit and was crawling up at the other end, shielded by his mates' bodies. And Horrie with a yelp raced along the edge of the pit to block him. Then one came crawling up our side of the pit and as Horrie raced back to block him another was quietly sneaking up the opposite side. At last Horrie was hopelessly exhausted; when I picked the panting little wildcat up his heart was thumping with a speed that frightened me. The blacks came laughing up the sides of the pit and coming across to us a venturesome fellow reached out a huge paw to stroke Horrie. But a snarl and snapping of teeth sent his hand back at the double with a roar of laughter from his mates. The laughter made Horrie furiously angry, but there was nothing he could do about it; he was all in.