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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

Powdered Palestine

page 16

Powdered Palestine.

Can you ever imagine anything more exasperating or tanatalizing than the dust of the Jordan Valley? It has an insidious power of penetration that defies exclusion. You cannot get away from it. Retire to your bivvy—and the flies—it comes with you; maybe in little gusts or maybe in clouds. The chief characteristic of the crust of this portion of Palestine is its capacity to disintegrate to a fineness that a flour miller might envy. Then it moves across the country at the caprice of every puff of wind. Who will forget those whirlwinds of the Jordan? They sweep over the terrain, gathering up the finely powdered earth into immense towers that seem to touch the blue. Maybe your bivvy is in the wake of one,of these freaks of nature. If it is, you probably spend an hour or two collecting the remnants and re-erecting it.

When your regiment moves, that is the time when you get your full share of dust and a bit over. You count yourself lucky if you're in the first section and the wind is against you. It is a foretaste of perdition to be in the rear.

You set out with a troop or a squadron on patrol, or something of the kind, and you have your cloud of dust with you to advertise your movement to friend and enemy alike. An odd section or two is sufficient to raise quite a respectable cloud. You inhale it; your clothes and equipment get coated in it; it sticks to your three-day growth, and the little streams of perspiration eddying down your face, mixing with ihe earthy pigment, make a delightful battleship-grey mask to your identity. Fortunately there is plenty of good, clean water wnere you are going; and even that modern luxury, a shower-bath when the work is done. And you remember those old days at Biref Abd, and think that there are a few compensations for being even in the Jordan Valley

When a new bivouac area has been set aside for the outfit that you belong to, you can count yourself fortunate if he who has made the selection of the location did not put you on the lee side of some much-used thoroughfare. The definition of a thoroughfare in the summer time, in this land, seems to be a place where the dust is thicker than usual. The Army transport, both animal and mechanical, prove effectual aids to nature in grinding the crust of the earth into a state that will allow it to move with a minimum of wind. Only they do it ten times more effectively than Nature, if not on such a wide scale.

It is a striking thing how quickly the aspect of the country changes once the summer sun has neutralized the effect of the winter rains. Illustration of this was noticeable around Deir el Belah last year. It was a sight for sand-blighted eyes to swing off the beach that glorious spring morning, as we moved up for the first attack upon Gaza, and gaze upon the palm grove beside a freshwater lake, with everywhere glorious green patches of barley, stretching away as far as the eye could reach. It was Arcadian. Hardly more than a month later the same scene was a study in desolateness. The grain had been garnered, the lake that looked so pleasing to the eye had dried up, and the crust of the earth was as flour. Rarely would you see a green thing other than the date palms.

At Tel el Fara, when what the official communiques might describe as the "exigencies of the situation" made dugouts popular. Mother Earth had a migratory instinct not to be denied, and you were ever busy keeping your dug-out clear of dust. Every little crevice had its quota, and even the girl's photo in your pay book had to be carefully dusted three times a day to keep her features decipherable. Abassan-el-Kebir was, if anything, a trifle worse, and it was indeed a respite to go down beside the blue old Mediterranean for a spell by the seaside, with its bathing and heavy sand. And how "hard" we did it when the time came round to move on again in that seemingly ceaseless round.

A khamsin is usually a nightmare, but occasionally there is a humourous side to incidents that may not have impressed one as funny at the time. I remember, when the Y. M.C. A. erected a big marquee at Rafa station it was used very often as a doss-house by colonials who happened along, on the way to or from their units. This day something special in the line of a khamsin Was blowing. The early evening had been fatal to many bivvies round about the marquee and their owners had made a bee-line for the big tent, thinking to get rest and shelter from the gale and dust. We were snugly settled down when Boreas put on an extra spurt of a few miles an hour. Sleep was out of the question. First of all a cracking, and then it was evident that some of the poles were not equal to the strain. We all leapt to our feet in various stages of deshabille, and for two solid hours we hung
Jordan Valley Dust.

Jordan Valley Dust.

on to the poles of that marquee, until the hour before the dawn brought quiet. It was a veritable battle with the elements—with the elements very much in our trenches. At times portions of the sides of the marquee would collapse, but they would be re-erected and the guy-rope stakes driven in again. And the dust was with us all the time.

I remember being in hospital with a chap who was fitted up with a cheap sort of throat, that was always developing tonsilitis, or pharyngitis, or some other "itis" of the kind. And when we were lined up for discharge, the Medical Officer came along and gazed at his erring organ and told him not to eat a whole list of things that seemed to leave mighty little in army rations but bacon and Fray Bentos; and he wound up with, "And when you get back to Palestine, I would keep out of the dust if I were you" 1

A dust storm usually drives the cook to distraction; a little sand in the stew, and some wag is bound to ask annoying questions as to whether the crowd has been mistaken for fowls. Perhaps the Orderly Officer wonders how the sand got into the stew, yet he would find it in his boots and socks and blankets when he turned in at night.