Peter Summerfield BEM: Passover in Egypt during National Service

In April 1953, my twin brother, George, and I celebrated Passover alongside the Suez Canal. 

We were in the Army on National Service, some 4 years after being naturalized British.

During the week, a group of Jewish forces in the Middle East engaged in a full programme of activities, with talks and discussion on religious, moral, and general topics. The Army not only provided the usual Kosher food, but also Hagadas (the special prayer book for Passover) and plentiful matzos and other Pesach necessaries. The cooking by Arab locals was overseen by two Jewish soldiers from the Army Catering Corps.  At the Seder service we recounted the story of the exodus of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt and recited the yearning to escape from the land of bondage with special fervour.  It felt really strange to be physically so near to where the Israelites had fled to freedom many centuries ago. It was a truly memorable occasion with full participation and the Pesach songs rendered with gusto.

In the evenings, we entertained ourselves with games and personal histories and, on the last evening, we put on a show and it was surprising how much talent was hidden in our midst. George and I also entertained with a song and dance routine. In gratitude for having volunteered to take over guard duties because we were on active service, we invited a group from the Royal Artillery to join us, and they thoroughly enjoyed the performance, especially the Jewish humour.

The week passed all too quickly but it was undoubtedly a unique experience. It was great that, even in time of active service, Jewish servicemen were offered a chance to be together for a period of learning and exposure to our Jewish heritage. It was a Pesach and time which we have always treasured and will always remember.

 Egypt PS Low Res