WO2 Davies CSM Support Company
We travelled to Israel 6 October 2015 for a 6-day trip as a part of our Centenary celebrations commemorating Welsh Guards history in the Palestine/Israel region. This WG100 leg was aptly named Ex BREAD OF HEAVEN and involved members from Support Company retracing the footsteps of our ancestors, acknowledging their sacrifice through memorial services and by conducting a 100-kilometre cycle ride across the country.
Welsh Guards arriving in Tiberius, 1945
Israel is a country with a very complicated history on which many people have a strong opinion, whether positive or negative, and I was eager to learn more about its history and its people. It is also a country, which holds many of the world’s most sacred places, important to not only Jews and Christians but also to Muslims. We were lucky enough to visit Jerusalem, Isarel’s self-designated capital, and visited the Wailing Wall, as well as many sights included in the traditional pilgrimage circuit. Many Jewish customs and traditions practice across the world originate from Israel and conform to the Hebrew calendar, for example the official day of rest is Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.
On our first night, we visited the Wailing Wall and walked through the old city. Given the religious importance of the area and the ongoing tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians, I found the whole experience quiet unsettlingly. During our walk, we did not come across many other visitors, which is not abnormal due to the cautious nature of many travellers in this region. However, we felt safe in the company Captain Luther-Davies; not because he is the Reconnaissance Platoon Commander and had done his homework, but because of the mere fact that he was raised and schooled in Israel. He understood the unusual and pressurised atmosphere of the city and knew that we, as neutral visitors would not be the subject to any of the hostility. Still once, he briefed us on the events that have taken place in the vicinity of the wall I became uncomfortable, imagining a situation where we might unintentionally antagonise someone and I suggested to him that we needed to move on with haste.
At the start of day two, we met with General Sir Sebastian Roberts and his brother Cassian who have strong family links to the Welsh Guards as their brother fought in the Falklands campaign. That day we visited three Commonwealth War Cemeteries in and around Jerusalem to lay wreaths to commemorate and remember our fallen comrades. This was a moving and sombre experience for us all, particularly those who have seen active service as this brought back memories of our own tours and personal losses. That evening we travelled to Tiberius, next to the Sea of Galilee where we would start the next part of our adventure.
Support Company Sergeants’ Mess Members lay a wreath on the Grave of Lance Sergeant JRH Jones killed at the age of 21 in 1947. Lance Sergeants Tancock and Biggs, Drill Sergeant Bowen, Sergeant Evans 88, Company Sergeant Major Davies 03, Lance Sergeant Deeks and Sergeant Crew.
Day three was the cycle ride itself. That morning we got into our cars and travelled approximately 100 kilometres to the north to the small village of Metulla, a sleepy (for the moment!) village that sits on the on the border with Lebanon. Between 1945 -1948 Metulla was the most northern outpost where the Welsh guards operated. It controlled a border crossing to what was the French controlled Lebanon and held a commanding view of the Jordan River valley to the south.
It was here in Metulla where we formed our peloton to start our ride back down to Tiberius. The cycle ride itself was challenging due to the uneven and undulating terrain, and the hot weather. There was also an added and unexpected hazard, the Israeli drivers! This certainly added to the adrenaline as everyman pedalled the route as if they had stolen their bikes. Throughout the journey, we had the support of Captain Luther-Davies’s mother, who provided us with juice drinks and energy bars, which was a real morale booster for the team. The Officers’ Mess roping their mothers into WG100 seemed to be an enduring theme throughout, and they say Welshmen are ‘Mummies Boys’!?!
After five and a half hours cycling we arrived in Tiberius extremely fatigued and after witness the poor quality of driving, we all promised we would be more aware of cyclist on the road back home. Under the guidance of Lance Sergeant Tancock we conducted our post exercise stretching and went for a swim to cool off. This seemed to gather a crowd and both fascinated and entertained the locals. We closed the day out with a good meal and a few well-earned beers.
On the road to Tiberius: Sergeants Crew and Evans 88, Lance Sergeant Biggs, Guardsmen Mitchell 10, Drill Sergeant Bowen, Captain Luther-Davies, Lance Sergeant Tancock, Guardsman Williams 22, Lance Sergeants Deeks and Williams.
The next day we started our battlefield tour with General Sir Sebastian Roberts, visiting the Yom Kippur battlefield. This battlefield is as known as the Valley of Tears due to the number casualties sustained on both sides and the collective bravery displayed during the battle. Accompanying Sir Sebastian Roberts was General Yeven who is one of three Israeli Army Generals and commands the Northern Division. As a close friend of Sir Sebastian Roberts, he took time out of his schedule to help bring to life the heroic and tragic stories from the battle sights we visited. He also shared with us that although not an orthodox Jew he is an Israeli patriot and would do anything to protect his people and country. He expressed his belief that Israel is vulnerable to the countries that share it borders, as many of them consider Israel as an illegitimate country and as an enemy.
The team visiting Battlefield sites of the 1973 Yom Kippur War in the Golan Heights. Lance Sergeant Deeks, Guardsman Williams 22, Lance Sergeant Tancock, Company Sergeant Major Davies 03, Drill Sergeant Bowen, Guardsman Mitchell, Lance Sergeant Williams, Sergeant Crew and Drummer Armstrong.
The last part of our WG100 leg was spent in Tel Aviv, which is the financial centre of Israel. It’s a beautiful coastal city, with more of a western (even Californian) feel than the rest of the country. It attracts large numbers of visitors because of its cosmopolitan feel, sunny weather and beach culture. In addition to its beaches, it has a long and involved history as a seafaring city. Captain Luther Davies showed us the historic harbours, where British expeditions have made port and included such individuals as Richard the Lion heart and Admiral Nelson.
After a last group dinner and an introduction to the nightlife of Tel Aviv, we flew back home with fond memories of a truly unique country. As one of most Holy countries on the planet, Israel certainly lived up to expectations. Whether you are religious or not it is truly humbling to visit a place of worship that has a long history of conflicts that is still prevalent today.