KATIE ROBERTS MAGAZINE EDITORIAL - EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON?
46 Clockwise from top left: Record of Service, Fred being greeted by a local in Egypt, Outside the camp tent, Portrait taken in East Africa.
EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON? Born in 1927, Fred Williamson has seen a lot, from living in Blackpool as a young Baker to living in Palestine as part of the Infantry at the end of World War 2. I spoke to Mr. Williamson and his wife, Connie, to find out more about his fascinating life.
We were surrounded by orange groves and we would decorate the tents with them at Christmas. I remember the strong smell of orange in the air.
Living in Blackpool as a youngster, Fred became a Baker after leaving School. From making bread to decorating wedding cakes, he always knew he would be soon called up for the Army when he turned 18. Connie told me, “I remember being in school during the war whilst Blackpool was being bombed and attacked. We were told to grab our gas masks and were rounded up in the air raid shelters. We didn’t have lessons we were just fed rationed biscuits and sat singing songs.” As soon as he turned 18 in 1945, Fred joined the Army and was expecting to be a cook with his previous experiences. However, he was sent to Hadera Camp in Palestine as part of the infantry. “It was something I wanted to do. We didn’t have a choice but I wanted to go,” Fred told me. Britain became in charge of Palestine and was responsible for stopping the Jews and illegal immigrants entering the country after they were rescued from the concentration camps of World War 2. The Arabs of Palestine did not want them there so the Brits were sent to stop the war between them. “The worst moment for me was when I realised I might have to shoot young children
and women that were trying to get in the country. We had camps for them to live in Cyprus but Palestine had a lot of religious significance to them and they called it ‘The Promise Land.’ They had nowhere to go after their homes had been bombed during the war. The Jews won the battle in the end because some that already lived in Palestine fought against the Arabs, and us, to let them in. They would open fire on us, so many were killed. I had to search Jewish houses for weapons especially after they bombed The King David Hotel in Jerusalem where British Officers were staying.” However, not everyone was lucky enough to stay in a hotel. Fred lived in a tent with the rest of his troops. “I loved every minute of it. We were surrounded by orange groves and we would decorate the tents with them at Christmas. I remember the strong smell of orange in the air from the trees around us.” During his time in the Army, he was sent to live in Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Cyprus and Somaliland. Over the three years, he received number of medals for serving in different countries and being on active service in the Canal Zone.
Clockwise from left: The troop ship in the Mediterranean, Collection of medals, Fred (right) and two friends at Hedera Camp, Transit Camp Cairo.
He also received The Kings Medal which was given to anyone that was injured. “When I first arrived abroad, I got off the troop ship and joined the others on the train to Cairo. The train stopped at different stations where some Arabs were selling various things. I decided to buy a ring. The transit camp trucks picked us up at 2 am and when we arrived at camp we all waited to get off the steps at the back. It was then that I decided to throw my kit bag over the side and jump off. The ring got caught and pulled off my finger. I didn’t feel any pain because of the adrenaline.” Fred was taken to Hospital in Giza, just outside Cairo. “Skin was taken from my leg to repair my finger and I was given jabs of penicillin which had only just been invented during the war. I had to stay in hospital for six months as it took so long to heal in a hot climate. One guy was run over by a transit truck and had to be sent back to the UK to be treated.” Fred told me that he always took a rifle and ammunition with him everywhere.
“One night we were queuing for the cinema outside and an Israeli terrorist opened fire at us. We dived to the floor but many died, luckily none of my friends were hurt. I didn’t realise how bad it was over there until I returned home as we had no newspapers. There were bombs planted everywhere.” Fred and Connie have both visited Jerusalem since. Connie told me, “You could feel the religion in the air. You just knew that it was where Jesus was born.” Connie met Fred when she was 14 and he was 16 but once he was in the army they would only see each other when he was on leave so the relationship ended by letter. “It was never a serious relationship so we remained friends,” Fred told me, “I’d always carried a photo around of us both that I still have today. When I returned home from the army in 1948 I went back to my old job in the Bakery. It wasn’t what I wanted so I decided to move to Canada in 1951. I was disappointed to find myself working in another bakery when I
got there which led to me quitting to become a taxi driver.” Fred lived in Canada for 10 years and say’s the best thing he ever did was get his pilot’s license in Toronto, “It’s the most significant thing I’ve accomplished in life.” In 1961 he received an upsetting telegram to tell him that his mother was very ill and so he immediately returned to Blackpool. It was then that Fred was reunited with Connie, after both being married and divorced during the 10 years they spent apart. “If I hadn’t received that telegram I would never have returned to Blackpool, married Connie and had my Children and Grandchildren today.” For someone at such a young age to go through and see so much in life is much more than what any young boy of today will be able to tell in 60 years time. To still be healthy and happy with these inspirational stories to tell is an achievement in itself at the age of 85. Everything does happen for a reason.
If I hadn’t received that telegram I would never have returned to Blackpool, married Connie and have my children and grandchildren today.
Clockwise from top left: The photo Fred carried of Connie and himself during his time in the Army, A recent photo on The QE2, Cab Driving License.