He also brought back a waterpipe we have always called "The Hooka." We come across a shop of that name as Jean and I stroll through an Amman, Jordan mall - 4 story with escalators and lots of displays to give us a look into the Jordanian lifestyle. I have to go in the shop to see the waterpipe selection and talk to the owner - a man who knows a lot about waterpipes, that here is called a "nargila". "Hooka came from India", he says, where the British Army picked up the word to pass on thru Granddad to us. Mom use to urge Granddad to "smoke the bubbly Daddy" whenever his wounded leg made him grumpy. When I first examined his hooka, I found a pair of bowls that hold the tobacco - one smelled of that weed, and the other smelled of another weed - hashish. No wonder he felt better after using the waterpipe.
Jean is talking head scarves with some ladies backed by rows of manikins sporting high fashion Islamic garb. A pretty girl is still able to look very sexy wearing some of these full body-covering styles. They are beautiful and expensive.
We are escorted by Bill and Khalid. Bill is a Fulbright scholar teaching at the Universities of Jordan and Petra.- a friend of a friend. Khalid is 29, Bill's friend and driver - he quickly becomes ours too. We latch on to him as translator, transporter and guide - all things needed for our next Granddad quest - to the site of his rather famous bridge.
Early the next day we are in Khalid's taxi - far south and far down below sea level - where John the Baptist once did business on the Jordan River. It is a pilgrimage site and a few buses are in the lot. We come here because this is the only allowed access to the border/river - and it is near where Granddad and his men forced the first bridge, a pontoon bridge, across the river on the night of March 21, 1918. British bridging units were also trying to get across the river that night, but machineguns on the opposite bank, a big river churning along at 6 knots, and fires started by the fighting, stopped them all - all except Granddad.
A history book reads, "This adventure proved the greatest of all the many raids carried out by the light horsemen, the New Zealanders, and the Camels … All was ready for the attempt to force the crossing. But the Jordan was in high flood … one night the waters rose 7 feet … Already the Turks were aware of the British plans, not only to cross the river, but for the destruction of the (railroad) … in Amman."
Khalid, Jean and I approach anyone we can find to get information. Thanks to the Australian War Museum and the internet, we have photos of Granddad's bridge, articles from the NY times about the crossing, satellite views of the river and maps of the area - both new and the ones Granddad had. We even have an 1918 aerial photo of the bridge taken by the yet-to-be-formed RAF.
We know where we want to go, and ask everyone we can find, but the answer is always the same, "forbidden … military border area … no one goes there." But we have great determination - and incredibly good luck.
A big new SUV pulls up with an obvious air of importance - the Commission Director of Baptism Site - a mister Dia Al-Madani. I thrust a photo thru his open window while Khalid repeats our pleas. Mr. Al-Madani is a man of action, and influence. "This is fantastic!" he says. "If you can wait until I get rid of the South African Foreign Minister, I will take you there myself." And after some phone calls and map planning - he did.
We 4 wheel into a wilderness little changed since Joshua crossed the Jordan to attack Jericho 3250 years ago - except for empty shell casings and rusted barbwire from several later wars. Mines still poke up in the low area where Granddad's bridge floated in the Jordan, but from the bluff we can look down, like an Ottoman gunner, at the spot. The spot where naked Australians swam the first rope across; where pontoons were slid off wagons; where horses and camels charged across to attack the Turks from the rear - and allowed Larry of Arabia's forces to link up with General Allenby's British legions to capture Damascus - and end 500 years of Ottoman rule.
The British were then able to construct the Allenby Bridge, now the major crossing point between Palestine and Jordan - the bridge Jean and I used to enter Jordan a few days ago. All that remains of Granddad's bridge is one pontoon in the collection of the Australian War Memorial Museum in Canberra - and history's memory.
Granddad was awarded the Military Cross for his "great determination, skill and coolness under fire." General Allenby later wrote a Dispatch to his boss King George, mentioning Granddad's other "interesting bridging operations." I have the handwritten congratulatory notice sent to Granddad about that Dispatch - signed by a young Undersecretary of War - Winston S. Churchill.
- Riverside Rod