Douglas Milton was called up in March of 1945 and joined the Hertfordshire Regiment in Egypt that November, shortly after which they were moved to Palestine. Whilst the War had officially ended in September, the 1st Battalion Hertfordshire Regiment were placed on peace keeping duties that continued to put them directly in the line of danger.
“You never really knew who your enemy was, and our prime reason for being in Palestine was to keep the Arabs and the Jews separated, because in those days the Jews were restricted in the amount of people they could get into, the then, Palestine. There were guards along the coast; sea patrols stopping the illegal immigrants coming in. We had a variety of duties – I personally was despatch rider for quite a number of months. We also then had to do duty on the Cairo-Haifa railway, which pretty well covered the coast all the way up. It was a prime target for either the Irgun Zvai Leumi or the Stern Gang (Zionist paramilitary groups) who would occasionally put bombs on the line to try and blow the trains up.”
“We were all well trained and in those days we were well equipped: the motorcycle was an old 500 BSA, rigid frame, but it got us around… All the vehicles were painted with the Regimental hart; that’s the hart that you see on the war memorial in Parliament Square. Jeeps were all kitted out with a very large piece of 2 x 2 angle iron sticking up in the air in front of them, out of the bonnet. The idea of that was to cut the piano wire that the likely lads would string across the road hoping to decapitate motorcyclists such as myself.”
On July 22nd 1946, the King David Hotel, home of the British Administration in Jerusalem, was the target of a bomb attack by the Zionist paramilitary group Irgun. Ninety one people were killed; Arabs, Palestinian Jews and British citizens, including government officials, typists, clerks, messengers, hotel and canteen workers, soldiers, policemen and hotel guests, and forty six people were injured. The Hertfordshire Regiment was at the heart of the rescue operation, searching for survivors and clearing debris. The rescue teams worked day and night in eight hour shifts for three weeks. Six survivors were extracted and 2000 lorry loads of rubble removed.
“It virtually demolished the whole of one wing. We were told that the bomb had been placed in a milk churn in the car park underneath the building… We were detailed, and had to attend the funeral services and fire the necessary rounds in the air to mark the occasion.”
In the aftermath of the explosion, the Regiment were involved in Operation Shark, where Tel Aviv was cordoned and every house searched. Residents not classed as elderly, infirm or children were all screened and large dumps of arms were recovered. The operation received a mixed global response, with General Sir Evelyn Barker of the British Mandate saying: “The operation has temporarily cost us what friends amongst the Jews we still had.” Former insurgent Samuel Katz however admitted that the operation had arrested “almost all the leaders and staff of the Irgun and Lehi (the Stern Gang) and the Tel Aviv manpower of both organisations.”
Incidents continued to take place, however, and Douglas recalled that the Regiment were continually called upon to respond to them: “…the Stern Gang went into a guard tent outside Tel Aviv and machine-gunned everybody inside and killed six of the 6th Airborne Division who were then stationed there. There were a number of little incidents like that going on all the time.”In October 1946 the Regiment received orders to disband, once again becoming a TA unit. Douglas Milton was transferred to the Suffolk Regiment and continued with similar duties. Of his service in Palestine with the Hertfordshire Regiment, Douglas said: “I think the thing that sticks in your mind is the comradeship that you had from your fellow soldiers. I mean, you were in a difficult situation and everybody pulled together: you could rely on your friends. It was great to be with a body of men that knew what they were about.”