1-3 ON TO JERUSALEM AND CAIRO
Even today it might seem hard for a twelve and a half year old to make a trip as I did. However, in those days there was a representative of the American Board of Missions for Foreign Missions in many of the major cities of the Middle East. Mother and Dad put me on train at a nearby station that took me to Allepo in Syria. I am sure that Dad gave the Conductor exact instructions on where I was going. Bill and the other kids had traveled this way going back and forth to school so it was not new to the conductors to have American kids traveling alone. I was probably the youngest to ever do it.
I was met in Allepo by a representative of the Mission facility there, which at that time was mainly a school. I was fed and given a rest before being taken back to the station to take a train to Beirut. Again, everything was pre-arranged, and I was met by a Mission Board representative. This was the day after Bill had gone to Jerusalem so I was taken to meet with some other people who hadn't managed to leave the day before, and I rode down with them to Jerusalem by car. These people had been told where the American Community School children were staying in Jerusalem, so I joined them that night where they were staying in an old hospital which was serving as a refugee center. I met Mr. and Mrs. Strong, teachers from the American Community School who were acting as guardians for us kids on the way to America. It was good to see Bill and the Dewey kids from Gaziantep whom I hadn't seen since their last vacation at Christmas. I was given a bed in a room that became the girl's dormitory. The boys had a room as did the Strongs. There were other refugees staying there who we didn't know.
The day after I arrived in Jerusalem, the border was closed and the expected war began. It had been apparent that the Germans had been moving soldiers into Lebanon and Syria in the guise of tourists, with the long range plan of taking over both countries so that they could get hold of valuable oil in Saudi Arabia. The Germans had already invaded Greece, Cyprus, and most of the Balkans. Turkey was neutral. When the French, who were responsible for Lebanon and Syria, did nothing to stop the German tourists, the British, who had significant forces in Palestine, decided they had no choice but to take over. Their legal basis was that the French mandate under the League of Nations required the neutrality of Lebanon and Syria. The British anticipated a difficult campaign, because the Lebanese and Syrians were reputed to be sympathetic to the Germans, who were promising them independence.
At the border between Lebanon and Palestine there was a deep gorge with a river in it and only one road and bridge across the Gorge. The British expected the bridge to be blown. They thought it would take several weeks to build a temporary bridge, during which time they expected the Germans to bring in strong forces. Fortunately, the bridge was intact, and the British were able to reach the Turkish border in two weeks, safe-guarding the Middle East oil supply for the time being.
There were no surface ships going through the Mediterranean Sea because of German submarines, so the only way to the U.S. was to get a ship in Egypt. With the fighting going on next door, visas were slow and we settled in for a long stay at the old Hadassa Hospital, now serving as a refugee center. The Strongs felt this was a good opportunity for us to learn about Palestian history first hand, so they organized tours nearly every other day. We got to see the three different places where Jesus is said to have been crucified, and also the multiple places of his birth and entombment. (Such locations charged a few piasters to visit.)
I think I enjoyed the Mount of Olives most because it was cool and there were almost no other people there. We also got to know some of the Jewish customs from different parts of Europe. I really enjoyed a little rum cake sold in a bakery right around the corner from the Hadassa Hospital. We had the right passports to go freely back and forth from the Jewish sector to the Arab side. We also met some friendly young Arab men who invited us to visit their olive orchard. I think their interest was mainly in Lynda, who was becoming quite an attractive young lady. The Arab young men could not, of course, meet socially with their own young women, so getting to know Lynda was a great occasion for them.
The boys often went off to the YMCA for sports, while we girls often sat around and talked or napped in the afternoons, which were so hot. This was a liberating time in my life, because for the first time I was being treated like a young lady and not a child. The older girls included me in their girl talk.
After about a month of waiting, our visas to go to Egypt came through all at the same time. There were so many of us that the railway company put on a special train. It was a days trip to Cairo, leaving in the morning. As I remember, our train stopped at the Suez Canal. We took a ferry across the canal and got on a different train on the other side. That night we arrived at the American University which was in summer recess. It was to serve as a refugee center while we waited to get a ship. This again promised to be a long wait because ships to America were few and far between.
At the American University, they gave us supper and showed us where the girls' dorms were on the third floor of the main building. The boys were on the second floor. There was also a flat roof, as is common in the Middle East, which was used for recreation. The library was near the dining room and I spent a lot of time there because there were so many books on so many subjects I had never been exposed to that I wanted to read and read and read.
Sometimes the air raid alert sounded and we all headed for the air raid shelter. Now that the Germans had been thwarted in Lebanon and Syria, they decided to get to the Middle East oil through Egypt and the desert war heated up. Everything in Cairo was blacked out at night, including the headlights of the cars. Because of military censoring, we didn't know how serious the German threat from the desert was. Actually, if Rommel could have received more supplies, he probably could have taken Cairo while we were there. One night there was an air raid, and we went up on the roof instead of into the shelter. The sky was criss-crossed with searchlight beams trying to find the German bombers. I think it was a false alarm because they didn't find any, and we didn't hear any bombs go off.
One of the older kids had gotten hold of a pack of cigarettes, and shared them with the rest of us on the roof one night where the adults would not see what we were doing. I choked and coughed and didn't like smoking, maybe the reason I never took up smoking later in life.
With a sense of freedom of being away from our families, we probably went beyond what we would have otherwise. Edward Dewey found that the University cars were left in a carport with their keys in them. So we taught ourselves to drive at night when no one knew we were taking the cars out. Because of the blackout, almost no other cars were out at night but it was a little scary driving without lights. Of course we drove very slowly and not very far.
One afternoon we went into town and saw the movie, "Gone With The Wind", which had just arrived in Cairo. It had, of course, been shown in America much earlier. One night most of the older kids went dancing at the famous Shepherd's Hotel. They said they felt out of place as most of the other people there were old men wearing fezzes.
I particularly remember the Fourth of July. Years ago when there were not so many Americans abroad, many of the American Embassies invited all the Americans in the particular country to a Fourth of July party. We were looking forward to the occasion as we knew there were other American kids from other places staying around Cairo who would be going to America with us and it seemed like a good time to meet them. The party was in the afternoon and we dressed up as best we could. At the party it seemed that the majority of the participants were kids like us from Beirut and two other places, Egypt, and the Sudan. We stood around in our own groups, a little bashful to meet those we didn't know. Just as the Sudan group started to come over to introduce themselves, the waiters passed champagne and cigarettes around which we all accepted in the spirit of the party. The group from Sudan, who were all Southern Baptists, changed their minds on seeing our unacceptable behavior. This just confirmed what their parents had told them that we would be an evil influence to be avoided. The kids from Egypt were a mixed lot and from backgrounds similar to ours.
Several days after the party we were told to pack up and get ready to catch a special train to Port Suez. There were two ships ready to leave for America and all the Americans going were told which ship they would be on, one going around Africa, the other by way of Australia. I think the trip to the port took several hours. We were to board that afternoon and sailed in the morning. It turned out that most of the Americans were going by way of Australia.
Our ship was really a glorified tramp steamer, the S. S. Kauser, with one deck of First Class cabins. Bill and I were assigned to Second Class which was dormitory style, six people to a cabin. It looked as if some of the hold area had been converted to passenger use, really stearage. Both Bill and I were in cabins with people who spoke no English. A fitting evening the day before departure was watching another air raid without airplanes. It was very hot, so most everyone was up on deck. Most of the deck space was for the First Class passengers. There was a small lower rear deck for the other passengers. Of course, there was also the lifeboat deck, but it wasn't covered. Bill and I found out that almost all of the English-speaking passengers were in first class, so we decided to define ourselves as first class passengers too. The American kids were just Bill, myself, Edward, Lynda, and Warner Dewey, and maybe a dozen more, evenly divided between the Sudan and Egyptian groups. In each group there were adults responsible for the children who were all minors.
Perhaps the most interesting group of passengers were American servicemen who had been masquerading as Red Cross drivers, but had actually been fighting in the desert with the British against the Germans. They were going back to America to teach American army units all about desert warfare. They had their military equipment with them including rifles and ammunition.
The rest of the American adults were teachers, missionaries, oilmen, and other businessmen trying to get back to America before the war expanded and included America. All the rest of the passengers were refugees from Europe who had managed to stay one step ahead of Hitler's soldiers. They were mostly of Jewish extraction from Romania, Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Poland, and Cyprus. Perhaps three hundred passengers had been crammed aboard. Most would get off in South America because American visas were hard to come by.
The crew was as motley. The deck seaman were Indian. The engine crew were Greek. The captain was English, but all of his officers were from different countries, including from Turkey. The ship's owner was on board with his family which included some children. The reason the boat was going to America was because the owner, a rich Romanian, had just purchased the ship to take his family to the United States.