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18 Battalion and Armoured Regiment

CHAPTER 16 — Fresh Woods

page 231

Fresh Woods

The battalion's first job at Baggush was to revel in the pile of mail waiting for it. Then it had to scrounge new roofing material, for to its disgust it found nearly every dugout in its area unroofed and open to the weather. Usually, in Egypt, that would not have been very serious, but this was the wrong time of the year. The night after the unit arrived a heavy rainstorm sent a small Niagara cascading down the escarpment and flowing round the dugouts down below. Before the end of 18 Battalion's three and a half weeks at Baggush things were even worse—bitter winds and rain squalls, the Box a mess of churned mud, dugouts (according to one dissatisfied tenant) ‘proper messy holes’.

Training began on 17 December, with a fairly full daily programme: arms and bayonet drill at first, then much route-marching, weapon training and range work. There was some grumbling at being pitched into work so soon, but loafing round Baggush would have been pretty grim, even the diehards admitted that. Anyway, some honest toil gave everyone an extra impetus to enjoy the relaxation of Christmas.

This was celebrated in style, with lots of food, and enough drink to make all hands wish there was more. But it was a sedate occasion compared with New Year. With an issue of rum to boost the party along, the whole of the New Zealand Division ‘went to town’ on 31 December, and Baggush saw a show that outdid the fireworks display of a year before. German flares, Itie grenades, machine guns, Bofors, even 25-pounders—it was bigger, better and noisier than many a battlefield. The battalion was above the escarpment on a route march when the fun began, but it made for home and joined in, rightly thinking that the centre of a hurricane is a safer place than the edge.

Although Baggush was as unattractive as ever, everyone managed to have quite a good time there. The training was page 232 regular but not really tough. A big parcel mail, arriving in dribs and drabs for a fortnight after Christmas, kept the boys supplied with fruit cake and other luxuries to contrast with the bully and biscuits of Libya. A reinforcement draft of some fifty men included a good sprinkling of old hands whom everyone was glad to see. Best of all, there was a persistent rumour that the New Zealanders would be heading back soon to their beloved Maadi, king of camps, which they had not seen for many long months.

Rumour was accurate, for 1942 was not a week old when 18 Battalion, along with the rest of 4 Brigade, bade the Baggush Box and its mud a last farewell that had few regrets in it. The big packing day was 5 January. Next morning the transport left early with nearly all the stores, tents were struck after breakfast, the carriers were loaded on railway trucks, and the same evening the battalion joyfully boarded the train at Sidi Haneish and away it went, clattering and bumping through the night on its way back to civilisation.

The graceful palms of the Nile delta, the debonair minarets of Cairo, the lush green of Maadi village had never looked so good, for they spoke of leave, of good food and drink, of the relative comfort of Base. One man appreciatively wrote:

This is the first time for about a year that we have struck a camp which is fully equipped with all necessities and naturally enough we appreciate the change. There's hot and cold showers, picture shows, butter and tons of fresh vegetables on the menu…. We get an issue of meat and fruit pies two times a week.

Of leave there was no lack. Ten per cent daily to Cairo (which in effect means as much as you can afford), and once again a small quota of seven-day leave. The demand for leave was bound to sag later as paybook credits disappeared, but for the moment Cairo was irresistible.

However, Maadi was a very temporary port of call, and paybooks were still relatively intact when on 22 January the battalion went on its travels again, back to the Combined Training Centre at Kabrit. This time, according to a particularly intriguing rumour, the Canal was to be only another temporary halting place, and very soon the whole division would be moving on to fresh woods. According to some authorities it would be going back to New Zealand or the page 233 South Pacific; for these were the early days of the Japanese war, and New Zealand's safety was a nagging worry in all minds. Other wise ones scorned this idea. But the question could not be resolved in the meantime.

Until the end of February 18 Battalion was at Kabrit, route-marching over soft dunes, doing the same old weapon training and digging and small-scale manoeuvres, playing football whenever possible, hating the fine Canal dust and the high winds that blew it into eyes and food and blankets and everywhere. The war seemed to have gone off the boil—true, two reinforcement drafts came in to bring the battalion up to full strength again, and the gear it had lost in Libya was replaced, but it had to hand a lot of its trucks over to British Army authorities, and could not get new ones, which indicated that no more active operations were in store for it immediately.

There was disappointingly little amphibious training in February. In the last week of January there were two full days of instruction at the Combined Training Centre—on assault craft and all the bits and pieces that went with them, scaling ladders, rowing boats, hand carts for use on beaches, wire ‘carpets’ to be laid on the beach sand as roadways. There was also a landing exercise from the invasion ship Glengyle on the far shore of the Bitter Lake, beginning at three o'clock one cold January morning and continuing for two hungry, uncomfortable days. But then the battalion had no more of this kind of work until 23 February, when it loaded on the Glengyle for a bigger, more important landing exercise farther afield.

As usual, the men knew very little about what was to happen and why. At the jetty they were jammed tight into the landing craft, then out and up the Glengyle's vertical sides like monkeys. Space on the ship when all were aboard was nearly as cramped as on the boats, but the men did not complain, so much did everyone appreciate the fresh Canal air and the freedom from dust. In the evening the Glengyle sailed away down the Canal, passed out into the Gulf of Suez while most of her passengers slept, and about midnight arrived off Ras el Sudr, 26 miles down the Arabian coast, where an unwilling battalion was dragged from its slumbers and turned loose in the boats, with a lining of hot cocoa to help it on its way.

This was no fun on a cold night, particularly as there was page 234 something of a sea running, and some of the men were sick on the way in. Wellington bombers growled overhead dropping flares along the beach. The leading companies (C and D) were ten minutes late getting to shore, and then D Company's boats went aground, had to be taken out again, and finally landed three-quarters of a mile from their right place. A number of other boats hit rocks or shoals a little off shore, and the men, obediently running out when the bow doors went down, found themselves up to the neck in water with a hundred yards to wade to dry land.

This bad beginning threw the whole landing out of schedule, but the companies pushed on as best they could with their programme, which involved a three-mile advance inland and establishing positions on a low ridge, while a ship-to-beach ferry service brought the support weapons and other bits and pieces ashore. At 11.30 a.m. the fun and games were finished, and everyone went back to the beach and out to the waiting Glengyle.

This was not the first practice landing that had been made at Ras el Sudr, but it was the first one at night, and consequently was not expected to run with clockwork precision. Experts from both Army and Navy who were around keeping an eye on things were kind enough to report that ‘18 Battalion, with a few exceptions put up a very creditable performance indeed’. The forward companies had navigated their way inland over rough, unknown country to land fair and square on the objective.

Next day the battalion was back at Kabrit, arriving there in a vicious sandstorm. But its stay in the dust was drawing to a close. On 27 February, quite unexpectedly, orders came which set the rumours at rest and temporarily silenced those who had the Division already on the ships for New Zealand. Its destination was a very different one.

The countries at the eastern end of the Mediterranean had so far played an undistinguished part in the war; but they would become key strategic points if the Germans tried to encircle the Mediterranean and link up their armies in Russia and North Africa. In such a case the British planned to meet and halt them on a series of prepared positions in Syria. Among the formations nominated to dig and occupy these page 235 positions was the New Zealand Division. As early as August 1941 the Division had nearly gone to Syria, but had been sent to train for the desert instead. Now, with the coming of spring and with a new German offensive expected in Russia, the defence of Syria loomed up again. Rommel's big counter-attack in Libya in January delayed matters for a while, and the Division stayed in Egypt on call, but by mid-February, with the British line stabilised (so everyone hoped) at Gazala, the situation seemed easier, and the Division was released to the Ninth Army in Syria. In the second half of February, all unknown to the Kiwis, arrangements were completed and plans made for the New Zealanders to shift to Syria. A sector was allotted to the New Zealand Division, engineers began to build camps for it, and it was decided that 4 Brigade would lead the Division there early in March.

The defence was to be based on a number of ‘fortresses’, corresponding more or less to the desert ‘boxes’, covering all the routes down through Syria. The Division's particular responsibility, the Djedeide fortress, was an important one, blocking the Bekaa valley, for centuries a north-south highway pointing at Palestine and Egypt. Near the little village of Djedeide the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon ranges bounding this valley converged, making a naturally strong position that would be difficult to get at from a flank. The fortress was to be tank-proof, dug for all-round defence, and stocked with two months' supplies. All this was to be done by mid-May—Jerry, said the experts, would not be able to overcome all the obstacles separating him from Syria before the end of May at the earliest.

However, all this was on the upper level, and 18 Battalion knew nothing of it until its marching orders arrived out of the blue on 27 February—pack up for the trip to Syria next day. This delightful surprise was received with enthusiasm. It promised new interests, new scenes, freedom from the Wog dust that, at the very moment the orders were published, was swirling round the camp.

The enthusiasm was not quite so marked next day when the hundred moving-day chores had to be done, especially as the battalion camped out in the cold that night, its tents having already been struck and loaded on a train. On 1 March the page 236 transport left before sunrise, but the rest of the unit had to hang round till 6 p.m., when some trucks arrived to take it to Geneifa station. The train set out in the dark, crossed the Canal and stopped at Kantara just on the other side.

Black and white map of Eastern Mediterranean Sea

eastern mediterranean

A belated meal at Kantara, and then everyone settled down to sleep. But there was little rest that night. The train stood all night at Kantara, while the men squirmed in the cold discomfort of the carriages without even the soothing clack of the wheels to put them to sleep. By morning there was not a page 237 vestige left of the enthusiasm of two days before. However, soon after 6 a.m. the train suddenly got on its way, and spirits rose again as it headed into the sunrise across the Sinai desert. Later in the day the arid Sinai gave place to the irrigated gardens and citrus groves of the Palestinian coastal plain, and as the train hurried north to Haifa the men revelled in the unaccustomed green and gorged themselves on oranges, eight or ten for a piastre.

Next morning, after a night at the Tira transit camp outside Haifa, 18 Battalion went on its way again, this time in twenty-four antiquated civilian buses. It was much cooler. The way led through farmlands where the first fruit trees were in full blossom, down to the Sea of Galilee—who can forget the splendid first glimpse of this mountain-locked lake from the Galilean hilltops?—then up through steep, rugged country into Syria, towards the snowy mountains visible on the northern horizon. It was at times a hair-raising ride, as the bus drivers spent the day jockeying for position on the winding roads, and several buses had fits of temperament, boiling and coughing their way up the hills and breaking down from time to time. But every bus reached its destination (Damascus) some time that evening, and next day the battalion went back to ordinary old comfortless 3-ton lorries for the last stage of the trip.

It was now in attractive country, glittering mountain snowfields poised above lower hills and valleys bright with wild flowers. But a biting wind blew off the snow, so that everyone was glad to wear greatcoats. At 1 p.m. the men were decanted from the trucks at journey's end, a jumble of tents and Nissen huts on flat, stony ground, with the steep wall of the Anti-Lebanons rising not far away to the east, and a spectacular view across the valley to the high snowfields of the Lebanons. The valley floor and the lowest hill slopes were cultivated here and there, dotted with scrubby olive trees and tiny farm hovels. Down the valley flowed a river, and a muddy irrigation canal ran beside the camp. Not much more than a mile away, where the Anti-Lebanon foothills began, was a straggly village that looked worth investigating.

It was good to step into a ready-made camp, but there were a few domestic chores to do, sumps to dig, incinerators to build, and so on, that kept the battalion more or less occupied for a page 238 few days. Life was pretty easy. Reveille at 7 a.m., which is holiday hours for the Army. There were few parades, and the boys spent their off hours exploring the surrounding country, the nearby village (El Aine by name) and other villages within reach. The countryside offered few possibilities, but the El Aine wineshops stocked a variety of lethal brews whose names captured the imagination even if their taste did not. They sounded prohibitively expensive, £1 or more for a bottle, but the Syrian pound was worth only 2s. 3d., producing an illusion of wealth that was apt to be dangerous. A few miles farther north was a particularly clean, attractive village called Fakie, which very soon became a favourite with 18 Battalion because of the friendly reception it got there and also because of the lovely hand-woven rugs made by the women. You could spend hours watching these rugs taking shape on their primitive frames, and many of them found their way back to New Zealand in the next few months.

On 5 March the transport and heavy baggage arrived in streaming rain. Luckily, the ground here did not degenerate into such a mud bath as the Baggush camp, but the rain and the chilling snow wind combined badly together. Everyone was quite keen to get to work, if only to keep the blood circulating. But for a few days they had to be patient, and keep themselves warm with football and route marches while waiting for the order to start their battle positions.

From the time 18 Battalion arrived at El Aine it mounted a full guard on its camp, the first since leaving New Zealand. This was not just ornamental, but protection against the Syrians, who enjoyed wide notoriety as thieves, and had a particular liking for army equipment. During the trip to Syria the men had been warned about this, and about Fifth Columnists, said to abound in this part of the country. The first part of the warning was undoubtedly justified, as the battalion found before long—gear of all kinds vanished inexplicably from here and there, even from inside the camp, and the price of immunity was eternal vigilance. As for the Fifth Columnists, there were periodical reports that parachutists had been seen in the hills near the New Zealand position, and once a search party found some abandoned parachutes, but 18 Battalion had no direct experience of them.

page 239

The battalion was hardly settled at El Aine before C Company was taken from it and sent for a fortnight to guard a big ammunition dump on an old French airfield at Talia, 25 miles to the south. This was a cold, joyless job, enlivened by one incident which those who took part in it would prefer to forget. The chief actor in this was a Tommy warrant officer who appeared at the dump with a truck about two o'clock one morning, demanding rifle ammunition in a hurry. On the strength of a written authority, apparently signed by the British officer in charge of the dump, he was allowed to load up and go away. Next morning, however, there were fireworks; the authority had been forged, the Tommy and the ammunition had vanished, and the guard commander narrowly escaped court-martial.

Two months later, in May, C Company was sent off again on the same kind of job, this time at Baalbek, some 18 miles south of El Aine. For this the company was split up, 13 Platoon taking over a petrol dump in a rocky wilderness a few miles from Baalbek, the rest a dump of bombs in caves on the edge of the town. No incidents like the Talia one occurred to enliven this second guard. No. 13 Platoon, finding time heavy on its hands, attained remarkable proficiency with the Bren gun during its fortnight there, more so than the other platoons, which were nearer to the attractions of civilisation provided in Baalbek.

Baalbek was 4 Brigade's chief afternoon leave centre from early March onwards. There was little to do there, though the wineshops plied a roaring trade; but the imagination was caught by the vast, magnificent Roman ruins, one of the show places of the Levant, just outside the town. So far the Division had viewed its antique monuments with detachment and a vague distrust. But these Baalbek remains were ‘bloody good ruins’, an expression implying the highest praise in Kiwi language. They roused enthusiasm by their very hugeness, and few were the Kiwis who did not make at least one trip to crane their necks at the decayed majesty of the Temple of Jupiter, and to be photographed, dwarfed against the mighty pillars.

Over the weekend of 9 and 10 March the battalion's officers went forward to the battle position and explored it thoroughly on foot; company sectors were decided and work instructions page 240 given. On the 11th the whole unit went up there and the navvying began.

The Djedeide fortress, sprawling across the valley and up the hills on either side, had already had some work done on it— an anti-tank ditch across the front was nearly finished. Fourth Brigade had the right-hand sector, consisting mostly of the forbidding Anti-Lebanon slopes; only 18 Battalion had a stretch of comparatively low, accessible ground. About a mile along the good main road running north from camp the unit's area began, and from there it stretched another mile and a half forward, astride the road, as far as Djedeide village, which was included in the front line. The battalion's mile and a quarter of front was to be held by two companies, B in Djedeide and on the valley floor to the left of the road, D among gardens and orchards on gentle slopes on the right flank, just above Djedeide. The rest of the unit was farther back, perched on hillsides on the right of the road, in the lee of a rocky spur which came down just behind Djedeide. The battalion's right-hand neighbour, 20 Battalion, looked down on it from the crags, while 18 Battalion itself looked down on the valley to its left, where other troops were later to come in and complete the line.

For two months the men worked at Djedeide, blasting away the hard rock, hewing out slit trenches and gun positions, living quarters and first-aid posts, observation posts and headquarters, the last-named roofed over and strengthened with heavy railway iron. Some natural caves provided ready-made dugouts without the hard work, once the traces of native occupation were cleared away. Everything was camouflaged, and an intricate system of dummy and alternative positions was built. The Syrians living nearby became very friendly after a while, and the first-aid posts found themselves acting fairy godmothers to the villagers, whose medical services seemed to be nil.

At first the men attacked the work with enjoyment. It was a novelty to be in cultivated country, or even on a rocky hill, after the eternal sand and sameness of Egypt. The air was crisp and clear, the cold invigorating, and the weather for the first few days good. From about 18 to 25 March the retreating winter had a last fling, with vicious rainstorms, snow almost page 241 to the bottom of the hills, and freezing cold; but this passed away very quickly, and by the end of the month the sun was out again and the valley warming up with the advance of spring. The oranges ripened and were a pleasant variation in the rations, succeeded by apricots as the weeks wore on.

The malarial season came too. The Bekaa valley is a highly malarious area, and from 4 April every possible weapon was turned against its bearer, the too friendly anopheles mosquito. Anti-malaria squads could be seen prowling the area spraying stagnant water with insecticide. Complicated personal precautions appeared in routine orders—mosquito nets to be tucked in round blankets at dusk, sleeping quarters sprayed every morning, face nets and gloves for sentries, repellent cream smeared on exposed skin. You even saw inspecting officers running their fingers along a man's cheek to see if he had greased himself properly. Later in April, when summer clothes were issued, the unlovely Bombay bloomers at last came into their own, being unhitched and let down below the knee at dusk to dissuade the ‘mossies’. In 18 Battalion, as in every other unit, the men were apt to look on all these precautions with a tolerant contempt, and observe them when convenient. But this was not the case with typhus, which was reported in the Bekaa valley in March. This most unpleasant disease commanded more respect among the Kiwis, who were quite ready to co-operate by obeying ‘out of bounds’ restrictions where typhus was concerned.

As the weeks went on and the heat increased, the first enthusiasm for manual labour was less evident. The Bekaa valley, the men found, was a natural wind funnel. It blew almost continuously, sometimes in gales that forced fine dust in everywhere—you might as well be back in Egypt, was the men's reaction whenever this got particularly bad. The tempo of the work slackened considerably.

With the receding snow the mountains lost their beauty and became arid, ragged hunks of rock, and though the valley blossomed in lush spring green splashed with the vivid red of wild poppies, there was a feeling of being shut in, of having no horizon wider than the few miles of river plain and the mountain tops. This increased when in late April the semi-nomadic local peasants began their move to summer grazing page 242 grounds. Every day and all day the valley was filled with a moving throng of sheep and camels, of dark gipsy-looking people, of donkeys loaded high with household goods, all coming from nobody knew where and disappearing into the vague distance. No wonder that the Kiwis, without enough hard work to absorb all their surplus energy, tended to become restless.

With restlessness comes mischief. Mild mischief, to be sure, but it took several forms—a vastly greater consumption of questionable liquor with all its unpleasant effects, an equally vast increase in the popularity of that expensive sport ‘two up’, systematic dynamiting of the fish out of the Orontes River which ran past 18 Battalion's camp some two miles away.

This last caused most trouble. Beginning in a small way in March, it had assumed such proportions by late April that the river was practically denuded of fish, and the local authorities, perturbed by the disappearance of one of their staple food sources, made a vigorous protest which led to the sport being completely banned under penalty of severe punishment.

It was all very well putting notices in routine orders banning this or that, but it was more to the point to provide recreation. So this is what 18 Battalion set out to do, and it was very successful.

The most popular institution, beyond a doubt, was the battalion ski school. This was a brilliant idea of Lieutenant-Colonel Gray's, who had returned to his old command— officially a knowledge of skiing might be useful to everyone if Jerry invaded Syria and it came to fighting in the high country, but the effect (and probably the real intention) was to give everyone a day's mountain holiday. The school was established at Ainata, a scruffy little village thrown down at the foot of the steep upper ridge of the Lebanons. Selected instructors, under Captain Phillips, who had already had a month at a Ninth Army ski course, ran the school. Skis were hired in Baalbek, and daily from 13 to 30 April one platoon went by truck up the mountain to Ainata. Few of the men had ever been on skis before, so the standard was not very advanced, but it was all good fun, the snow was nice and soft to fall on, and by the end of the day most of them were getting the hang of controlling their skis. Except for a few men chosen for a three-day page 243 advanced course there were no second visits, which was a pity, as one day of it whetted the appetite for more.

Less popular was a scheme introduced later in April, by which every platoon in turn went for a three-day march on its own into the Anti-Lebanons. This was no holiday jaunt, but a tricky scramble in the heat up and down stony ridges and rough wadis. The men travelled fairly light; their heavier gear was carried by mules (‘nervy, evil tempered things’ according to one man) driven by Indians and under the care of the platoon sergeants, which took different routes and met the platoons each afternoon at a rendezvous. Theoretically the idea was to get the men used to the mountains and to give platoon commanders and sergeants practice in the art of finding their way by map and compass. Actually, interest was pretty perfunctory, and most of the men seemed to regard the trip in the light of a camp fatigue, something to be got over as soon as conveniently possible without too much hard work. The best part was that the platoons could fire off half their ammunition, which led to some noisy, spectacular shooting contests in the evenings, the wadis echoing to the rattle of Brens and the thud of 2-inch mortar bombs. There had to be a perpetual watch, day and night, in case the local bandits should try to ‘jump’ the column for the sake of its arms, ammunition and equipment. On the third day, if the platoons were lucky, they emerged from the mountains at the tiny village of Joussie, 15 miles north of camp, and were picked up by trucks on the nearby main road.

At the beginning of May, with the introduction of summer working hours (7 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.), the afternoons became the men's own to do pretty much what they pleased. A little desultory cricket was played, but it was too hot for football. Some men explored the villages and some went off visiting friends in other units, and more and more took advantage of daily swimming trips to the source of the Orontes River, which springs from under a cliff in a deep gorge, forms a small pool, and from there goes thundering down the gorge to the plain. It is a wild and rugged but magnificent spot. The snow water makes you gasp when you plunge into it, and most of the swimmers found a couple of ‘just in and outs’ quite enough. The recognised thing after a dip was to climb the cliff to some page 244 ancient fortified (and pretty inaccessible) caves, then to come down and brave the icy water again before going home.

Even with these diversions the Djedeide fortress was beginning to pall now, so news of a brigade manoeuvre was very well received. The work on the defences was showing real results, so much so that Divisional Headquarters felt it could send its brigades off in turn. On 20 May 18 Battalion went out to its morning digging for what it hoped was the last time, spent the afternoon on parade for the Duke of Gloucester, and in the evening organised gear and weapons for the exercise, while ASC lorries, which had not been seen in the battalion's lines for months, streamed in. Next morning the camp was astir at 4.30, and by 7 a.m. the convoy was on its way north along the main road. The route swung east along a dusty side road round the north end of the Anti-Lebanons, and then they were running across open semi-desert, following the great oil pipeline which was one of the reasons for the Kiwis being in Syria. About midday the convoy reached its laager area, and there for twenty-four hours the battalion waited for something to happen, finding to its surprise that this part of the country was a good deal colder than the Bekaa valley. At night, indeed, it was almost uncomfortably cold.

The main purpose in the manoeuvre was to scrape the rust off the Division's ‘desert formation’ technique, which had fallen into disuse during the last few static months. So for most of the next four days the battalion travelled about the desert as part of 4 Brigade's convoy, wheeling, halting, laagering, moving into formation by day and night—quite like old times, thought those who had been in Libya. One afternoon the infantry had to get down and walk a couple of miles with tanks moving ahead, and at the end had a brief shoot with Brens and rifles while Vickers and 25-pounders banged away behind them, but this seemed secondary to the main object.

Back at El Aine 18 Battalion, to its irritation, found that it was to do more work on the defences, which it thought it had left behind. Interspersed with this work was a little range firing, which everyone enjoyed, and anti-gas training, which everyone hated. However, the general tone in the unit was perkier than before, because now, for the first time, there was talk of a wonderful holiday camp at Beirut, on the Mediterranean, over page 245 the other side of the Lebanons; the whole unit, said Rumour, was going there to spend a week swimming and enjoying the delights of city life. Those whose duties had already taken them to Beirut spoke glowingly of the town—a handsome, well-to-do place with everything you needed for a good time. The prospect was most encouraging.

Then it became official. The battalion was going to Beirut all right, and it was to get an important perquisite, two extra days as a bonus in return for digging in the tents of the holiday camp. Nobody had any objection to this, quite the contrary, for, said the boys, after all the excavating they had done all round the Middle East they could dig in a few tents with one hand tied behind them.

Fifty men from the battalion, who were to be camp guards at El Aine while the rest were at Beirut, went to the holiday camp on 5 June with the Maori Battalion. They were the lucky ones. They had their holiday and returned on 12 June. The same day the rest of the battalion crowded into ASC lorries and rode away, in the highest of high spirits, over the Lebanons to Beirut.