World War II: Hurley's War Diaries

The Alawis

The Alawis are a prominent mystical minority religious group centred in Syria who constitute a branch of Shia Islam.


Arab Farmer

Barley fields by way of Hebron to Deir Sineud – a pleasant lovely run at this time of the year with red poppies dappling the green fields in which the Arabs were working patiently. Frank Hurley, diary, c 7 April 1941


On the Road to Hebron

Along the road came casual traffic of camels laden with bulky loads that gave the impression that one more twig would break the camel’s back. 

Then there were occasional travellers astride donkeys with their legs swinging and dangling in rhythm – a constant method of harmless spurring. Groups of women with bundles on their heads scarcely less burdened than the camel’s load. Frank Hurley, diary, c 7April 1941.


Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

…I left the car at the foot of the Mount of Olives and climbed up from Gethsemane through the Jewish cemetery to the summit of the Mount to that legendary spot from which Christ gazed upon the city and wept over it. In the late afterglow the scene was serene and the spires and domes of the old city, half defined in the gentle light, presented a scene that brought peace and control to the mind and I sat for a little while on an ancient Hebrew tombstone, of which part of the hillside is almost covered, and gazed upon contours similar to those over which the master pondered. Frank Hurley, diary, April 1941


The Old Comfort Hotel, a Popular Spot for Australian Troops on Leave

I put up at the FAST hotel which is conducted for the hospitality of troops on a few days leave by the Australian Comforts fund. The service is all that can be desired and merits the highest praise for those administering it. I am always content to stay at the ‘fast’ as the atmosphere is very congenial and one meets here many old and new friends. Frank Hurley, diary, February 1941


A Street Scene in Old Jerusalem

All the war energy seems strangely at variance to the apparently peaceful face of Palestine. The cities of Arab and Jew bear little indication of war happenings a few hundred miles away. Frank Hurley, diary, 9 April 1941


Fisherman Landing Nets at the Sea of Galilee

It was around the shores that He wrought miracles’ taught the multitudes and spake parables’ Here it was that He quelled the storm and walked the waves and I filmed fisherman hauling in their nets along the shore just as they must have done in the Saviour’s time. They all looked as if they had stepped from the Bible, their deeply lined and furrowed faces and ragged dress certainly conveyed the impression as if they had stepped down through the ages. Frank Hurley, diary, 1 April 1941


Australian Despatch Rider

An Australian despatch rider showing his motorcycle to local Syrians in northern Syria, 1941. Australian patrols, part of the occupation force in Lebanon and Syria, were sometimes found up on the northern borders of Syria facing Turkey.


Bedouins Harvesting Dhoura (type of millet), near Beersheba

Palestine at this time of the season (early summer) looks serenely beautiful. The grainfields are ripe and golden tracts make pleasant contrast for to vivid green of the young maize crop which is coming along sturdily. Harvesting to a full swing and all the people and animals are busy in the fields or threshing.

The gathering in of the ripe grain is all done by hand each stem being cut by a knife and these are laboriously gathered together in bundles. Camels carry immense burdens to the threshing sites close to the village and here activity reaches its primitive concentration. The bundles of straw and grain are laid out in big circular patches or dumps and oxen yoked to a small sled affair is dragged round and round. The action of the hooves and the bottom of the sled which is armed with sawlike teeth cuts the straw and ears into tiny fragments smaller than chaff. Frank Hurley, diary, 27 May 1941


Three Military Men at Tel Aviv Beach

I decided to run on to Tel Aviv which I did and stayed at the Ritz a comfortable pension where even as I write the sound of surf swishing and tumbling on the beach below comes up to me. A sound that is a splendid tonic song to the senses and a pleasantly natural one from the noises of war. Yet is all very incongruous. Here in Tel Aviv the bustling crowded streets seem at peace with the world. In the environing country the peasantry go about their husbandry as in days of peace – yet all about us is intermingled camps of men who have seen war and are at war. Peace and war here strangely mingled – let us pray that this ancient land which has been fought over perhaps more times than any other land on earth may not have to suffer the ravages of another campaign. Frank Hurley, diary, 26 May 1941


Where Elijah was Fed by Ravens

Where Elijah was fed by Ravens. Continuing along the old Roman road which skirts the brink of the Wady Kelt, and which the footsteps of our Lord and His apostles must have trod many times, we gain glimpses of this rugged glen with its unscalable walls, trenched with a Roman aqueduct-still in use today-and a small perennial stream flowing at the bottom. Hereabouts Saint Joachim hid himself to bewail the sterility of his wife, Anne, when in a vision he saw the angel who announced to him the birth of the Blessed Virgin. The memories of the Saint are enshrined in the old convent of Couziba (St George Monastery), which hangs like a swallow's nest above the abyss.