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Pam's Story

Kliner-Stephenfather-and-daughter_e8011a6c-de82-4421-9f77-6c63d19a2fcf Father and daughter — Pam and George Trenter

As a tour guide, I am constantly surprised by the personal stories of those I am guiding, often told at sites that evoke a memory or reminiscence. None more so than the one recently recounted by an old friend, Pam Trenter Moser, while I was guiding my Habonim Hachshara group's 50th reunion.

We were visiting the recently opened visitor centre and memorial site of Khan Sha'ar HaGai or Bab el-Wad (Gate to the Ravine). The Khan had been an Ottoman roadside inn or caravanserai built in 1873, a resting spot about half- way between Jaffa and Jerusalem which served travellers commuting between the two. Due to the advent of motor cars and the train, however, the khan fell into disuse.

Located at the narrow opening of Wadi Nahshon, the khan, as well as serving as a way stop, guarded the main road at the beginning of the ascent to Jerusalem. This section of the road was the scene of many fierce battles during the War of Independence; as the Arabs controlled the only road to the city passing from the West through Bab el-Wad. The Arabs gained control not only of the road but also the hills dominating it. They would ambush the Jewish convoys, which were passing along the treacherous road, taking food, ammunition, and medical supplies to the besieged citizens of Jerusalem. As food and ammunition ran out, the people of Jerusalem faced starvation and defeat.

In an attempt to relieve Jerusalem, the men of the Palmach Brigade, together with those of Brigade Seven, which was fighting around Latrun, embarked upon the task of cutting a road through the hills by-passing Bab el-Wad. With a tremendous effort, the road was completed within a few weeks. Starting at Har'el, south of Bab el-Wad, it reached Jerusalem via what was previously considered unpassable territory. When it was finished, food and ammunition could once again reach Jerusalem.

Initially the road was named Road Seven after the Seventh Brigade, whose men built it, but it was later renamed the 'Burma Road.'

The Khan has been restored as a heritage centre in memory of the men and women who ran the convoys - to those who broke through the road to besieged Jerusalem and to those who fell in the struggle to keep the vital lifeline open.

The museum has an account and a visual depiction of how the Burma Road, that rocky track circumventing Sha'ar HaGai, came into existence and helped break the blockade of Jerusalem.

Following our visit to the Khan, our group went to sit around the shaded grounds, surrounded by the restored burnt-out armoured vehicles from the convoys, to have a water break. I was expanding on the story of the building of the Burma Road leading to besieged Jerusalem, pointing it out as one of the glorious episodes of the War of Independence.

At this point, Pam intervened. She seemed to know the story in greater detail than I had told. After asking if anyone knew why it was specifically called the Burma Road, she recounted how one, Yehuda Ben Ya'akov had been instrumental in its construction.

Yehuda had been an active Zionist in his native Germany He organized illegal immigration to Israel in the 1930's, prior to fleeing to London in 1939, where he got involved with the Zionist Federation's 'Hachalutz', instructing Aliyah groups.

Yehuda went on to train as an engineer and worked with a company that laid the submarine oil pipeline which supplied the allied forces following the D Day landings in June 1944. As a result of his experience as an engineer, the British invited him to join the Royal Engineers and sent him to Burma. There, he learned how to build and repair roads. He worked extensively on the war damaged infamous Burma Road built by the British through the Burmese jungles during the second Sino-Japanese war. That road became a legend and its name was subsequently given to other similar attempts to circumvent dangerous areas.

In early 1948, back in London, Yehuda was approached by an aide to Weizmann, who told him that he had a job for him in Palestine where the Hagana had a problem cutting a mountain pass to besieged Jerusalem. With his experience in Burma, Yehuda seemed the right man to help. He took up the challenge and rushed to Israel with two Scottish friends who had served in Burma with him.

A charcoal etching of Captain George Trenter while in Burma

On arrival in Palestine, the three men were immediately taken to Latrun to a meeting with Mickey Marcus. Mickey Marcus, otherwise known as Mickey Stone, a member of Machal - volunteer soldiers from outside Israel, commanded the Hagana force detailed to relieve Jerusalem. After reconnoitring the area, and discussions with the team that was to build the road, Yehuda recommended a change in the planned route. He strongly urged not building a two-way road but two separate paths, one going up and one going down, with a wide shoulder so that any vehicle which broke down on route could be pushed aside and passed by the rest of the convoy.

Due to the inability of using explosives to blow up the roads, as the Arabs would hear and be alerted, Yehuda and his friends instructed the team on how to move rocks with bulldozers as they had done in Burma. The Hagana were impressed with the experience the three brought from Burma. Their morale improved when they saw help by way of volunteers coming from overseas. Yehuda convinced them that, however difficult the task was, it was not impossible, if they had the determination.

After three days, Yehuda and his two friends finished their job. He returned to England because of problems with a recurring war wound that required attention. As all three spoke with strong accents - Yehuda, a deep German guttural, and his two friends, a broad Scottish brogue - communication with the Palmach soldiers was understandably difficult. Maybe, they did not understand much more than the repeated reference to Burma and the Burma Road. At any rate, Yehuda is reported as having said 'I don't know if the road was called Burma Road because of our involvement, but we did talk a lot about Burma, the original Burma Road, and perhaps it just stuck."

How did Pam know this story? Yehuda ben Ya'akov was the nom de guerre of her father, Captain George Trenter. 

 

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