Friday, April 27, 2007

Fifty-nine Years Ago - Michael Sherbourne's Story

Michael Sherbourne is one of my heroes.

He was very deeply involved in the Soviet Jewry campaign in the late 1960s and 1970s and when I was in London, he briefed me before my mission to Natan Scharansky in November 1976.

Michael has his own personal history with the founding of the state of Israel and I thought I'd share it with my readers:-

...I was 90 in February this year (I was born in London on 22.02.1917) and I went as a volunteer to join what was then simply "The Haganah" in December, 1947, very shortly after the famous United Nations' Declaration of 29 November 1947 for Partition of Palestne.

I went with my wife and two small children, via Marseilles. Arriving in Haifa in January, 1948, we were greeted with the sight of black smoke onshore from explosions. There I joined what became the organisation called "Machal" (Mitnadvei Hutz La'Aretz). On the road from Haifa to Tel-Aviv we travelled in an armoured bus, that was more like a large tank than a civilian bus (!) and it was fired on several times, particularly heavily as we went past Atlit, where the Arabs were entrenched strongly on the hills above.

When we got to Tel-Aviv we found it impossible to get to Jerusalem, which had been my destination, (where I had arranged to meet an acquaintance, Teddy Kollek), as the road was completely blocked. So my family were esconced in an immigrant hostel while I joined the force that was later formed as Hativah Sheva, or Seventh Brigade. The organization was so haphazard [t]hat we (other volunteers and I) called it Havita Zayin (Havita, being as you will know "Omelette" while Zayin, as well as being the Seventh letter, was also rather crude and obscene slang for penis...

However, by April (1948) things were getting a little more organized and once the British finally left on May 16, (and incidentally I watched from Mount Carmel as the Royal Navy warships in Haifa Harbour were loaded with Arabs who were fleeing and were taken up the coast to Beirut) our Brigade was given the task of re-taking Latrun. It had been in our hands but Ben-Gurion had ordered the troops out as they were needed elsewhere, and the Monastery was occupied by the Arab Legion, officered by British Army personnel, and commanded by Brigadier-General Glubb (Glubb Pasha).

We were told how important it was to re-take it, as it was blocking the road to Jerusalem but we were given an impossible task, as the Arabs were strongly entrenched and had 25-pounder artillery and a clear field in front of the monastery on a steep slope down (from their point of view, but UP from where we were based at Kibbutz Hulda. While we had no artillery at all, and we were only equipped with home made Sten guns, which were more dangerous to us than to the enemy. Many of our so-called "troops" were but boys straight off the immigrant ships, from the Concentration Camps, with no training in the use of arms, and our losses were very heavy. Eventually it was realized that we just could not do it and we had to withdraw and re-group, and Latrun was not taken by Isael until 1967, nineteen years later.

My family also suffered badly as my wife became very ill from lack of nutrition and when we returned to England in 1949 she was diagnosed as having Tuberculosis (T.B.) in both lungs and I was told that she had no more than two years to live, but she lived through it and died many years later from Breast Cancer in 1995.

There were less than 400,000 Jews in Palestine in early 1948, and when I look at the situation today, I view it with a mixture of pride and astonishment at what has been achieved in these last 59 years. My older daughter and her husband have lived in Israel since 1968, and I have three Israeli grandchildren, and three great-grandchilden. My son-in-law served in Tzahal as did my grandson. And today there are some six million Jews in the country, which is here to stay, in spite of everything.

All I can say is "Hizku ve-imtzu" - "Be strong and of good courage.


Anonymous said...

Dear Yisrael, My name is Debbie Young-Somers and I am very proud to be Michael's youngest grandaughter (one of the UK ones): he is also my personal hero, and a man who has achieved so much, and been not only present but engaged in such important historical moments. I stumbled across this blog entry while searching for something else, and was seeing him for lunch shortly after so printed it off to show him. He was very flattered and pleased to be remembered. He asked me to write the following to you (I write it as he did):
"Dear Winkie, My grandaughter has just shown me your Blog (is that the right word?) of 27 April 2007, which she came across while "surfing the net". You see every 91 year old geezer can learn this modern language.
How nice to know that someone thinks of me. At times I feel cut off from most if not all of my 'old' friends, espeially as so many of my really old friends have passed on to the 'happy hunting grounds'.
Unfortunately my own computer has been out of action for some months but when it comes back to life I'll be in touch. Meanwhile, many thanks- Michael."

Shavua tov and kol hakavod

YMedad said...

Tell your granddad for me that I hope I brought back at the time enough kopecks to make a good few additional calls via other Zionist agents and that I enjoyed being with him a good few months ago (or was it a year already?) at the showing of the film "Refusenik" although I always preferred "refusednik"