WE commenced to climb the mountains, Horrie insisting on leading the way.
"This climb will take some of the fire out of the little wretch," smiled Don.
"It would be funny if we really did meet a bad, bold wolf," I replied.
"I bet Horrie would have a go at him," declared Don.
Those mountains were deceiving. From the bottom they looked like a sloping wall, but now we saw there were numerous crests and small valleys between us and the top. A growl from Horrie attracted us towards two Syrian shepherd boys intently watching us. They took a great fancy to Horrie; his tiny size and uniform seemed to fascinate them. Despite their coaxing he refused to make friends.
Portion of these mountains were unscalable but to our surprise we saw in each little valley a number of villages. Some were so small as to be only a cluster of two or three huts of mud and rock, with flat roofs of mud and straw. On each roof was a small stone roller probably used to keep the roof flat and compressed, or to push off the snow after a heavy fall. In numerous cases the hillside had been excavated to form a side for the dwelling. The Lebanese villagers greeted us very hospitably; we were objects of considerable interest, particularly the ungracious Horrie. The villagers were proud Christian Arabs and would never ask for baksheesh. The men wore the traditional head-dress of sheepskin, coat, and long, wide pantaloons caught in tight below the knees. The women were shy but friendly. Numbers of these folk beckoned us inside to proudly show us their only pictures, those of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Their entire existence depended upon their small flocks of goats, long-haired sheep and pocket-handkerchief fields of wheat. We secured a bright little boy guide from one village and very proudly he introduced us to the folk around, to the undisguised resentment of Horrie. He showed us how the wheat is pounded into flour in an earthenware dish by rolling it with round stones like small cannon balls. The flour is then baked into pancakes. These, with olives and sour cheese made from goat's milk comprise their main diet. Very few of them could speak English but all could speak French, a result of the French influence in Syria since the last war. They liked the French. Little rock fences were built beside the villages for protection of their flocks against wolves at night. Each village possessed savage guards in the shape of huge, gaunt dogs that looked a cross between Alsatian and wolf.
"Ferocious beasts!" said Don distrustfully as they came snarling towards us. "Hold that little devil tight!" The Wog-dog was yapping in angry challenge. "The tips of all their ears are missing," added Don.
"Frost-bite maybe," I suggested. "Thank goodness!" for the villagers were driving the beasts into the houses.
With our guide in the lead we were climbing a wild mountainside when a deep-throated growl brought us to a halt. Barring out approach and with fangs bared stood a monster that was the nearest approach to a cross between a wolf and a lion I could have imagined. It completely ignored us; it was fascinated by the tiny Horrie who stood before it like a rat facing a mastiff. My heart was in my throat as Don's rifle slowly rose, while the little wretch advanced full of fight, determined to protect us to the death. He sailed straight into the attack followed by Don, the Syrian boy guide and myself. The mass attack staggered the wolf-dog who bolted with Horrie yelping at his heels. Horrie chased him; our yells to call him back only made him chase the harder; the huge dog easily kept just ahead of him, glancing undecidedly back now and then. The chase was downhill and the two dogs gained terrific speed, flying over the boulders and bushes round which we had to dodge. There was no chance of shooting the big dog without imminent danger to Horrie. My heart was in - my mouth as on dodging a boulder I saw the wolf-dog had turned and was easily leaping round and round the snapping Horrie. Evidently the huge dog was still undecided whether to annihilate this queer insect or not. The ground was so steep we could do nothing but hurtle ourselves straight at them as Horrie got a grip on the big fellow's toe. The latter instantly seized Horrie and shook him like a rat. We fell right upon the dogs, crashing and rolling over upon them. The big dog bounded up and was off like a startled lion, followed by a shot from Don which kept him moving. We saw his huge body vanishing amongst the bushes.
I picked Horrie up and examined him. He was nearly -all out, but it was only the wind knocked out of him. I'd thrown myself right at the little wretch. Feebly, he still wanted to chase the wolf-dog.
"If he hasn't had enough excitement for one day," panted Don, "then I don't know what we're going to do with him."
Horrie certainly was just about knocked out but for the remainder of the day he continued to bristle and growl to remind us we were quite safe under his protection.
It was several hours later that we stood on a mountain-top and gazed at the magnificent Valley of Lebanon far below - a valley where throughout history armies had marched and fought, and where were now two victorious Australian armies.
Wearily we climbed down; it was dusk before we reached the home of our guide in a very clean village. Outside our guide's home, corn had been spread on square sheets of cloth to dry in the sun; a very small girl was now collecting the corn. Her job of protecting it against the scrawny fowls finished with the setting of the sun.
We were made very welcome at the guide's home. Immediately on entering the room we gravely removed our boots and were motioned to sit at the fire.
This house, like all the others, was one large room. Conversation was mostly carried on by smiles and signs, but there was no mistaking the friendly atmosphere. But the little Wog-dog kept close by me and scowled at the whole Syrian family, eight of them. The evening meal was served as the sun went down. The table was only one foot high and as big around as a large dinner plate, so that the meal was "two at a time". They smiled to Don and me to gather round the table and make a start. The last two were mother and daughter. Dinner was a brown bread pancake, olives, and queerly tasting cheese. Under the watchful and approving eyes of the whole family we did our best and signed that it was lovely. To our dismay we were immediately rewarded with another and larger helping.
When the meal was over, cushions and Arab eiderdowns were taken from a comer and spread across the floor. Solemnly the entire family part undressed. We spread our-selves upon the eiderdowns, and were all soon fast asleep, except the distrustful, watchful Wog-dog. I doubt if he closed an eye all night. Every now and again I'd half awake to hear him growling by my side at any movement of the Syrian family.
Next afternoon we climbed down the mountain to be greeted by the waiting Imshi. Barking their felicitations, the two little dogs ran together. Then Horrie sat back and threw out his chest as they engaged in animated conversation.
"Leave them at it," smiled Don. "He's only telling her how he chased the wolf away."
We strolled across to the signal office where Poppa and Fitz and Gordie were deep in conversation.
"Hullo," exclaimed Poppa, "it's high time you two turned up. Have you heard the news?"
"No; what news?"
"Japan has bombed Pearl Harbour!"
We stared; this was breathless news indeed, and our thoughts flew to our beloved Australia.
Japan and the Pacific and the U.S.A. were the sole topics of conversation throughout the camp, in fact through-out all Syria wherever troops were quartered. Almost every-one felt certain that the U.S.A. would defeat the Japs. In every camp men were speculating as to whether we would be recalled for the defence of our homeland.
It drew towards Christmas. Horrie and Imshi had a great time scampering through the snow. Horrie was much too "underslung" for the snow country; his long body on tiny legs sagged in the middle and nearly dragged on the ground. His best method of travelling now was by leaps and bounds; but often, only two bright eyes and a little black nose were all that we could see of the Wog-dog. The nights were bitterly cold and Horrie had an open invitation from all the Rebels as a footwarmer. To our disgust he turned us down flat, preferring Imshi instead. He had completely pirated Imshi by now. His warm lined box under my bed was scarcely big enough for himself but somehow or other he managed to squeeze Imshi into it too. The two funny little things, snuggled up under a rug, would sleep warm as two 'possums while we shivered. And despite our scoldings they would simply be there in the morning, gazing up at us with not a movement from either.
"Scandalous goings on!" growled the Gogg.
Imshi's master had given up in despair.
"She's made her own bed, she can sleep in it!" he declared. "I'd brought her up to be a nice, refined lady dog before that ruffian Wog-dog came along. Now that he's led her astray I wash my hands of her."
But the two little dogs did not- seem to mind. Imshi daily imposed on her master's forgiving generosity by inviting Horrie to the anti-tank camp for their specially cooked meal.
Horrie would often return to the hut with his uniform sopping wet, then stand on his hind legs, and placing his front paws on a signaller's leg, vigorously shake himself, plainly saying "I'm cold and wet. Please take the coat off!" He'd rarely venture out into the cold without his coat. At night, it was hung up with Imshi's to dry on a rack by the heater. He wouldn't get up when we did but would stay under the blanket until we were about to leave for duty. Knowing we would not return for some time he'd warn Imshi and leap out of his cosy bunk. Then he would try to reach his coat, asking someone to put it on. His little growl of pleasure and tail-wagging and hand-licking were our rewards. When the thaw set in it was very hard on his pads and they became so sore that he could scarcely walk. Yet he refused to wear the boots we made him. He looked so mournful at being left behind in the hut that we made a sledge on which we could pull our signal gear and in the front of the sledge we built a little box for Horrie. Daily we had to walk some miles along the valley, checking the telephone wires. In his box under our warm greatcoats Horrie's little head would peep out. He loved this method of travelling, but coax as he would, Imshi would not travel with him but would trot along beside the sledge until we were just outside the camp area. Then she would trot back, Horrie watching her with that resigned "So long! see you later" expression.
On these cold walks Horrie loved us to pull up and boil the billy; he would have been a wonderful mate for a bushman. His "tea" though was a warm mug of Horlick's Milk which he quaffed with gusto. At times we had to leave the sledge but the gear was perfectly safe; no prowling native dare approach that sledge with Horrie on guard.
Horrie was a dinkum soldier-dog, alwavs ready for duty. He had done guard duty for us in Egypt, Palestine, Greece, Crete and Syria, while on Crete he had done valuable service by carrying important messages swiftly down that big hill in the dark. On quite a number of other occasions he had carried out definite military duties. At this particular camp, we trained him within one hour to carry wireless news from the signal office to Mac's hut. The messages were placed in a leather tobacco-pouch used only for this purpose. When ordered "Take this message to Mac!" Horrie would take the pouch in his mouth and swiftly trot to the distant hut, quickly returning with the answer, if any. When he was on duty, even Imshi could not tempt him from his job.
We received the serious news that the Prince of Wales and Repulse were sunk.
Gordie rigged an issue wireless and with this we picked up Reuter's news in morse from London and passed it in sheets to the camp. And didn't the Wog-dog just come into his own as the bearer of the news to the eagerly wasting crowds.
We knew we would receive word to move any day. We hardly dared think of Horrie. The little Wog-dog had now been with us for so long, stuck to us through thick and thin, shared our joys and sorrows in sympathy and comrade-ship. In the sudden, and often unforeseen circumstances of war we knew a time might come when we might be compelled to part with him.
And he knew it too, knew as he always did when something deeply serious was afoot, and when something immediately concerned him. All were particularly tender to the little pup; often now he would gaze up into my face with such a searching expression that I instinctively knew he perfectly realized his fate was entirely in our hands.
We received the fateful news to move. And - what a relief - it was with our own friendly crowd. No change of commands, no order was given, no comment made about the little Wog-dog. Soon we were travelling back through Palestine. We felt sure it meant back to Australia.
We had received the bewildering news of the fall of Singapore, and of the loss of the 8th Division.
Horrie's farewell to Imshi was pathetic. We moved out before the A/T Regiment. Mac held Imshi up in his arms and Horrie gazed back until we were long out of sight.
They took us right back into Palestine and told us we would camp here for the time being. The "time being" slowly dragged on into eight weeks. Horrie fretted over Imshi for a time but eventually decided to buck up and take nourishment. The troops were very unsettled by the bad war news from the Far East, coupled with the inactivity and uncertainty of our own movements. Even leave now appealed to very few; all we wanted was to be on the way home. To pass the long days of waiting, the game of Racing Beetles spread like wildfire throughout the camps. Each man ambitious to race his own "Stable" hunted for the beetles around the countryside; there were countless ugly big black Scarab and other varieties. Quite a number of men grew so enthusiastic that they spent many patient hours training their beetles. To compete in any one race the beetles had to be the same breed, size and weight. Before each race, each beetle had to be first examined and approved or by the judge, "just in case" for we wouldn't put it past some of the lads "touching" up their fancies with a drop of liquid energizer, or other mysterious aids to speed. Any beetle that had been in the wars, such as a veteran with a toe nipped off or an eye missing was promptly declared a non-starter by the judge. If the suspicious judge detected a tiny speck of clay or anything else overweight attached to the undercarriage of a contestant, that beetle was immediately disqualified and the owner warned. The cost of entry for each beetle was two hundred mils. The owner of the winning beetle scooped the pool. The prize money for the winner of a big race such as a Haifa Doncaster or Palestine Flying or Jaffa Cup was really surprising.
As each beetle was declared a starter by the judge it was touched with a distinguishing mark such as chalk, red ink, grey paint etc., so that the punters could back their fancy and keep an eye on it during the race. And the punters eagerly followed the progress of their fancy; in a big field there were as many colours as jockeys wear in the Melbourne Cup. Some beetles were famous winners of many races such as the big brute Phar Lap, the nuggety Peter Pan, the swift Carbine, The Barb, Rogilla, Beau Vite, Ortelli, and numerous other lords of the Turf. The course was the centre of the ring of onlookers. The course proper was a clearly marked circle about four feet in diameter on the ground. Dead centre was the Starting Post. Here, the rim of a round cake tin was carefully placed, lid and bottom of the tin having been removed. Inside their barrier was placed the Field. Here they milled around all anxious to start or rather to escape while final bets were made. When all was set, the starter lifted the rim and away lumbered the beetles to all points of the circle hurried by yells of "Come on, Phar Lap!" "Come on Skipton, you beauty!" etc., etc., with groans when a fancied beetle collided with another and was knocked back several lengths. The first beetle to cross any part of the circle was declared the winner.
From the judge's decision there was no appeal, even though a dead-heat sometimes nearly caused a fight.