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Purity of Arms

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Audrey Benedict  E-mail
1960 article in the South Africa Zionist Record and Jewish Chronicle
By Gita Freedman

I had met volunteers from all over the world in Israel during the War of Independence, but when I met Audrey Benedict from South Africa, I wondered why a gentile should volunteer to serve in the Israel Army.

What prompted a matron from a well-known nursing home to give up the ease and luxury of life in South Africa, and choose instead war-torn Israel, which was fighting for its very existence.

Why Israel?
We were stationed at different hospitals in Israel so I never had the opportunity of finding out.

Very many years have passed since then.  In South Africa a Machal Association was formed by volunteers who had served in the war in Israel.

At one of these meetings I was told that a Mrs. Goodman had also joined the Association.  I couldn’t place her.  Only during the tea break did I realize that Mrs. Goodman was Audrey Benedict.

It was a pleasure indeed to meet up with her again.  She was the same smiling Audrey I had known in Israel.

We met often at the Machal meetings, and though we met we were unable to discuss very much, with the distractions around us.

I asked Audrey whether I could meet her sometime, so that I could talk to her about her life in Israel.

She invited me for coffee the other morning.  The first thing I noticed when I rang the bell of her flat, was a Mezzuzah on her door.  This brought home to me the fact that she is now of the Jewish faith.

This is no surprise to me, she always had leanings in that direction.  She opened the door to me.  I could see that her charm and good taste permeated her flat.

Her kind hospitality made me feel very much at home.  Over coffee Audrey told me what I had wanted to know over the years:  why she volunteered to serve in Israel?

Love of Zion
During her nursing career while in Britain, she became aware of a mood of anti-Semitism following the unfortunate incidences between the occupation forces of British troops and the Irgun in Israel.

She began to visualize Palestine as a Jewish Homeland.  She sympathized with the Zionist cause.  She was a Zionist.

The injustice towards the Jewish people made her think.  She longed to do something for them.

On her return to South Africa in December 1947, she became the Matronn of the Princess Nursing Home.  Whilst there she asked a prominent surgeon, for whom she had worked before going to Britain, how she could get to Israel to assist.

He put her in touch with Mr. Simey Weinstein, and in a matter of weeks, Audrey and another Theatre Sister, Marie Roux, were on a Dakota en-route to Tel-Aviv.

Her arrival in Israel was not quite as she expected it to be.  In the first place, her passport had not been endorsed for Israel;  secondly, Benedict sounded too much like Bernadotte (Counte Folke Bernadotte).

The authorities were not very impressed with her explanations, so she was detained in a little private hotel outside Tel-Aviv for the night.

In the morning only after being identified by a South African surgeon, was she released.

Wanton destruction
She was assigned to a Haifa hospital, and on the way there in an ambulance, she was amazed at the destruction of telephone and transport services by the British before they left Israel.

She was even more amazed at the havoc caused in the Government Hospital in Haifa.  Lights, lifts, and huge sterilizing plants had been wrecked.

She was to hear more of this wanton destruction in the days and weeks that followed.

The destruction of the necessary equipment at the hospital did not deter the team of qualified staff.  They had limited surgical supplies, but they adjusted to the difficulties.

She worked with prominent surgeons from all over the world, and being one of a team of trained staff, she worked day and night.  Besides doing all the specialized surgery, they had to cope with emergencies as well.