When Johnny left I mucked-in with Menachem (Mem) Slor. Mem had been captured
in Greece in 1941 along with other R.A.F. ground crew. He was a Jew and he was
very proud of being a fifth generation Jew in Palestine (now Israel). We changed
barracks and moved from 18B, which was nearest the forty holer to 15B which was
across from the cook house. I got lucky when I took a middle bunk and the top
bunk was occupied by Alan Battle. He was an R.A.F. observer and he spoke and
read fluent German. He was the compound interpreter (dolmajor). He got a copy of
a newspaper Der Deutsche Zeitung and he would read the news to the compound
every evening. I was able to get plenty of newspapers from him for toilet paper,
which was great!
Mem was full of ideas to improve our lot. He figured we should start a laundry, so we did and became "Dhobi Wallahs as the Brits said. The Canadian Army compound was next to ours. They received plenty of cigarettes from home, thus a Canadian might get 5,000 or 10,000 cigarettes in a few months, whereas someone like Mem never got a one. So I would go over to the Canadian compound and get the clothes and some soap and bring them back to our barracks. In the centre of the hut was a concrete washing table about 5' by 4'. It had a cold water tap. Mem had scrounged two big scrubbing brushes, he would wet the clothes rub soap on the dirty areas and then lather up the soapy area with his brushes. Then he would rinse them out and I would help him ring the water out. Then I would take the cleaned clothes back to the owner and collect the cigarettes. Mem would then go to the compound where there were various nationality groups, the British Army seemed to have lots of them. These chaps, like Mem, never received cigarettes from home so Mem was able to make good deals for any food they had kept from their Red Cross parcels or bread they had brought in from working parties. Mem spoke Hebrew, Arabic, German and a working knowledge of two or three other languages. His English was not very good. Sometimes he would ask me to go with him when a Brit was trying to converse with one of these people. The Cockney, Yorkshiremen, Scotsman, etc. would say something and I would repeat it in my Canadian talk which they could generally understand, whereas the various British dialects were incomprehensible. So these people thought I knew a few languages. I recall once Mem introducing me to an Arab and the Arab offered me something to eat, I refused a few times then accepted. Mem said this was their custom, it was not because he had a lot of food. So I realized I had committed a "faux pas under our circumstances, as he probably had nothing to eat that suppertime.
As winter came on the Red Cross parcels slowed down maybe 1/2 a parcel a week or skip a week, etc. Mem and I decided to raffle our parcels, so I would go and sell raffle tickets to the Canadian Army fellows and always make the draw in one of their huts so they could see there was no hanky panky. We generally made enough cigarettes for Mem to go out and buy the equivalent of two or more parcels. We had raffles about two times a month depending on our receipt of parcels.
We continued the laundry, I had always refused to take handkerchiefs or smelly clothes and in winter there were more of them offered. In the wash area it was so cold that the water tap would freeze at times, so basically all Mem did was to brush a bit and swirl them in soapy water and to try to get a soap smell on them. All barracks were full of improvised clothes lines and with the cold barracks it was quite a job to get any drying done and the dampness added to the cold. Once Mem got the bright idea of washing the clothes in warm water. So he traded some cigarettes with a guard for some coke. He got a fire going in the "copper a huge kettle where hot water was boiled twice a day from the wood gathered by the "wood-party . Then Mem dumped some dirty clothes in the copper and was getting a good wash job done. It didn't take long for our elected barracks chief to put a stop to this. I helped Mem clean out the copper as best we could. But everyone said their cup of tea or cup of hot water didn't taste very good for a while. But between the laundry, the raffles and Mem's trading ability we lived quite well that winter.
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