IDF veteran recalls experiences of Yom Kippur War 50 years on

After just ten months service in the IDF, Laurence Newman was thrust into war


After finding out via transistor radio that Israel was at war, Manchester-born Laurence Newman watched from a kibbutz balcony as young Israeli soldiers danced below, eager to put their training to use in battle.

But Laurence, whose father was tortured by the Gestapo while a prisoner of war for five years and who had lost two distant cousins in the Vietnam War, did not dance. He knew what lay ahead.

He had been granted leave from a squad commanders’ course and was back in his room on Kibbutz Gvat. A firm knock on the door came at 2pm on Saturday, October 6, 1973, and he was told to return immediately to his posting. He grabbed whatever he could, having not even had the chance to do his laundry, and by 4pm he was back at his base in the West Bank.

He had made aliyah at the age of 16, attained Israeli citizenship at 18, and now at 19, ten months into his service with the Golani Brigade, he was thrust into war.

Buses arrived at the base to transport Golani members north to the Golan and south to the Sinai, but chaos and confusion reigned in those first few hours of war.

“It was absolute bedlam,” Laurence told the JC. “No one could tell us where we were being sent and the orders changed with the minute. First we were told to load all our kit on this bus, then ordered to unload it all and put it on that one. Then to take it all off again and put it elsewhere, and then it was all repeated.”

Eventually, Laurence and some of his company were sent to the Ramat David airbase and flown to reinforce the southernmost tip of the Sinai around Sharm el-Sheikh and up to the town of Dahab until reservists arrived.

They divided their time between unloading the plane’s cargo and diving for the trenches each time the base’s siren sounded.

Laurence said: “There was so much fog of war, so much confusion, and between bouts of fear there was humour and banter.”

At Dahab, he remembers being on guard duty throughout the “utterly silent” nights, and the “total blackness of the sky, without even moon and stars, and no permission to make any light so as to not give away our position”.

After the reservists arrived, Laurence and his unit were flown back up north to the Golan where they took part in the third battle of Mount Hermon.

Supporting the 51st Golani battalion, they were tasked with retaking a strategically important Israeli listening fortification, nicknamed “the eyes of the country”.

As it got dark, they began their ascent. Laurence said: “In front of us, the mountain was under complete bombardment as we advanced 100 metres behind a curtain of suppressing fire. There were Syrians below us, above us, and to our sides. There was fire from every direction, and I saw many casualties.” Just before dawn, the fighting reached its climax.

“The whole mountain was aflame with gunfire and mortars. Green and red traces lit up the sky, yellow fire explosions all around, shell fragments hitting rocks, washes of silver from the Kalashnikovs. It looked like hell on earth.

“Imagine the greatest firework display you can imagine, put it all on a small mountainside, and where everything is lethal. And we were walking directly into it.” Separated from his platoon in the chaos, Laurence remembers wanting to find binoculars in the early morning light.

He found a pair around the neck of the dead commander of an IDF reconnaissance unit. He cut the strap with his knife because he “didn’t want to hurt him by picking up his head”.

After the battle of Mount Hermon, his platoon was told to remain as a standby reserve on the mountaintop in case of a Syrian counterattack. After 48 hours, they finally descended the mountain and had “our first shower in weeks”.

They stayed in the region, stationed in the Syrian village of Mazraat Beit Jinn, for two weeks. Surrounding them, “dead bodies lay, bloated and black in the sun. When gases build up inside them, they can burst.

“There were the bodies of enemy troops still in their tanks, stinking the town up. Dead animals were strewn about everywhere, killed by the shockwaves of artillery. That smell, like an abattoir, you can never quite get rid of.”

Laurence continued to serve in the army, becoming an instructor at a basic training camp, and then joined the reserves. He was involved in intelligence gathering during the onset of the Lebanese civil war in 1975.

Back in Britain, he became a teacher and lecturer after obtaining a BA in politics and contemporary history and a MA in intelligence and international relations. He was invited to RMA Sandhurst to help run a series on intelligence and national security.

Now 69 and living in Bury, near Manchester, he is semi-retired and is a part-time supply teacher.

After the war, he was informed that Michael Marshall, a Manchester schoolmate whom he had known since the age of four, had been killed by an Egyptian sniper. “That one casualty really hit home,” he said.

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