Hetty Smith

Excerpts from Hetty Smith’s diary on her visit to Egypt and Palestine, 1933-1934

My late mother (from the UK) visited Egypt and "Palestine" as it was called in 1933, as a young single woman aged 28 or 29 (with a chaperone!). She kept a diary which I have been lugging around for the past 60-odd years. Sadly, she died aged 43. My thought is that someone, somewhere, might recognize her or themselves or somebody they know from these diary excerpts. Judith Yalon Fortus 

22 November 1933

My late mother, Hetty Smith, then young and single, sets sail for Egypt and the Holy Land, accompanied, of course, by an older married lady, one Mrs. Borland, as chaperone. And, whether or not with an eye to posterity we shall never know, she keeps a diary, a sort of travelogue. My eldest granddaughter, Eliya, recently dipped into it for a school project.

1 December 1933

They arrive at Port Said and take a train to Cairo. They travel parallel with the Suez Canal. “The natives live in mud huts. They do not look as though one can stand upright in them.” Arriving in Cairo, they are met at the station by a car from the Victoria Hotel.

17 December 1933

Mr. H. and I decided to walk to Canopus. The following is his account of it: “Walked along railway track, through Mandara railway station. Looked into the entrance grounds of King Fuad’s Palace. Sentry at the gate presented us with roses from the palace grounds. Then passed through Montague station, cut left through private road across sand dunes to the sea edge. Then shoes off and a barefoot walk along the sea-washed sands to the limestone ridge, where 2,000 years ago stood a famous town, Canopus (nearly 5 miles from Mandara). In Canopus was the famous Temple Serapis, dedicated by Ptolemy III about 235 B.C. About 100 yards from the sea edge on the ridge were some large baths. The remains now show distinct traces of pink cement-work which indicates Ptolemaic or Roman work. There are remains of the entrance channels. Found a good piece of white mosaic tiling, probably floor surround of the bath, and evidently at least 2,000 years old. Walked the five miles back to Mandara in the sunset.”

18 December 1933

Alexandria: Went to the hairdressers. Told the man I was in the trade. He said I could work there if I liked, as if it were known that an English lady was employed there, all the English residents and visitors would patronize him. He mentioned £30 as a possible wage. Of course, it was quite impossible for me to consider the offer, but what a good opportunity it would be for a girl who could live in Alexandria.

December 23 1933

Met an Englishman at the hotel. Very widely travelled. Has just come from Afghanistan. Brought a remarkable coat with him. Goat’s hair and skin. Embroidered on the inside. He said he had had it made in Persia. Selected the skins himself. Cost twelve shillings. He also showed me some strange things he had picked up in various places. Two daggers, the handles of which are well decorated, with ridges along the blades for the blood to run down. They are made of almost any metal the Persians can obtain. Also a very fine hat made of lamb’s wool. Looks something like a Cossack’s; an exquisitely worked whip; this is made of fine white metal, strip of  it rightly wound, so that it has a cordlike appearance. Leather strap attached to the top and two small pieces of leather at the bottom. And lastly some pretty cigarette holders. He gave me one. It is black, white and amber with an inlaid silver design. He gave Mrs. B. a tiny piece of opium, grated, she did not like it one bit but was curious about the effect it would have. However, he did not give her enough to affect her in any way.

24 December 1933

Tel Aviv: Briefly, my opinion is that Tel Aviv[1] will be very American in about ten years. Everything is so very new. It looks as though architects of various countries have tried out their ideas here. Result, many fine buildings, in many different styles. And over everything is a young, new look. The roads are wide, and the shop windows surprise me in that many of them are small, and badly dressed. Building is going on apace. They cannot get the houses completed quickly enough for the immigrants to move into. It is really wonderful to see what the Jews have contained in the space of about twenty five years. The name Tel Aviv means the Hills of Spring, and Petach Tikva means the Doors of Hope.

December 29 1933

Took a bus to Jerusalem. The drive took about two hours and was a great experience. Partly uphill and pretty steep at that. The most dangerous hairpin bends, which the driver managed most skilfully. We passed the town of Ramla. This is the oldest Arab town in Palestine. British troops are stationed there. As the bus went uphill, we had a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside, very hilly. Picturesque, color, sandy and in places, red. These hills have been terraced for cultivation purposes. The road along which we travelled is as old as time. Mary took this road on her way to Bethlehem. It runs through two ranges of hills. The hills at this part are of rocks and stones. Vegetation is chiefly eucalyptus bushes. Since ancient times, whole armies have ambushed [sic] from among the hills and bushes. When the enemy appeared on the road, they would swoop down upon them or hurl down the stones. Lord Allenby was the first British leader to enter Jerusalem by this road during the World War.

30 December 1933


Jerusalem: “We walked through the New Town until we came to the Jaffa Gate. This was enlarged in 1898. We had an excellent view of the Valley of Rephaim, where the Philistines encamped against David after he had captured Jerusalem.

30 December 1933

Jerusalem, the New City

“We arranged to meet at six, to collect some tags and boxes and go begging on behalf of the poor children of the Old City. Mrs. B. carried the box, I the tickets, and Mr. T. and one of the Americans followed at a discreet distance. The American said I would be unable to extract money from the Scottish soldiers. This got my blood up and I swore to do so or die in the attempt. I stopped the first two Scots I saw, and told them we were collecting for the poor children of the Old City. Well, I certainly had a job getting any money out of them. I had to tell them what the American had said before they would cough up. Things were very good after that, except that we were turned out of a café: the waitress said that Jews were not allowed there; which I thought strange, as there is a Hebrew inscription over the door.”


December 31 1933


Met our American friend who took us to the Hebrew University. A very fine building and a credit to the Jews who made it possible, it has been in existence about eight years, and is situated on Mount Scopus. From this point, one gets an excellent view of all Jerusalem. On clear days the Dead Sea can be seen from here. We were shown over the University. The library interested me greatly. It contains about 300,000 volumes in all languages. They are placed first in order of subject, then in order of language. I would like to have spent some hours in there. Then there is the Periodical Room. Here can be seen newspapers and periodicals of interest in many languages. In this room is a glass case containing the Illustrated History of the Polish Jews. Presented by the Polish government. Then there are the Mathematics Rooms. In one of them is a fine portrait in oils of Einstein. We looked into the laboratory too. A fine well equipped department. Saw some students at work there. New departments are being built, and some of the students help in the building during vacation. In the grounds is an open air theatre built in the Greek style. The students write their own plays, and produce and act them in this theatre. Must be wonderful during the fine evenings they have in this country. We took leave of our friend, and went on our way. A little way off is one of the eight war cemeteries of Palestine. The lands of all the war cemeteries in this country have been presented by the people. The inscription over the entrance says: “This land on which this cemetery stands is a free gift of the people of Palestine for the perpetual resting place of those of the Allied Armies who fell in the war of 1914 – 1918, and are honoured here.” There is a Christian and a Jewish section.

After lunch, we went shopping. We came to a place where they sell all kinds of Palestinian work. I purchased some olive wood salad servers, some shell ashtrays, and a few stones. The shopkeeper was telling me a tale about stones and I listened to him until he referred to chrysoprase as jade. Then I let him have it. In five minutes, that man had his entire stock of stones out for my inspection, and I had a happy hour examining them. He did not try to tell me any more tales. We became quite friendly and he entertained me to tea. I believe we spent over two hours in that shop.

At about nine in the evening, we went to the Grand Café where a New Year’s dance was being held. The place was crowded with British police and soldiers. Six of the policemen were fellows I had met on board. The band was good, Pinky is a fine dancer, the other chaps weren’t bad, and so I had a lovely time… During the interval there was a boxing match between a man and a kangaroo. That animal was very well trained. He wore proper boxing gloves. He was greatly admired by the audience. The fight lasted three rounds and the enthusiasm was great. We left the hall at one … after a very enjoyable day.


1 January


Visit to the Church of Nativity and Rachel’s Tomb:

“There is a car park very close to the entrance of the Church of the Nativity. We entered through a door made low and narrow for purposes of defence. The church was built by Helena, and restored by Justinian in the year 531, and has remained practically unchanged to the present day. It consists of a rectangle 100 ft long and 79 feet wide, divided into five aisles by four rows of monolith columns 20 ft high. The mosaics date from the time of the Crusaders, but are now in a very dilapidated condition. The Grotto of the Nativity is just under the High Altar. We descended into a gloomy crypt lighted by oil lamps. At the end of the stairs is a niche, rounded at the top. In the floor, covered in white marble, is a star bearing the inscription: “Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est”.

Three steps down is the manger where Mary laid her child on a bed of straw, and here the shepherds came to worship.

Rachel’s Tomb is in the centre of the Cave. It is covered with thousands of names. I told the Chassid that I wanted a prayer said for my stepfather. And he promised to see to everything for me. He then wrote the following on the Tomb: ‘Froyka, son of Shmiel Mellamed (Mallamed), husband of Esther, father of Solomon, Annie and Samuel, stepfather of Jack and Hetty’.  He then wrote the same on a piece of paper and placed it on the Tomb where it will remain. Then the keeper gave me a taper and asked Dad’s name and mine. I lit a candle and he said a prayer. I never thought I would be able to have a prayer said for my stepfather in the Cave of Rachel in the Land of Israel.

18 January 1934

Took the bus to Jerusalem. A beautiful morning. Warm and sunny. From the hills we have a view of the sea. A glorious blue. The weather here changes very quickly. Yesterday there was snow in Jerusalem and today it is so warm that I could quite easily have done without my coat.

19 January 1934

Petah Tikvah “It is a beautiful day. The rain has ceased, the sun is shining, and all the land is green. A soft and tender green. Everything looks so fresh.”


 Rothschild Blvd,1930s                                                 Cairo, 1930s

Judith Yalon Fortus, Hetty Smith’s daughter, selected the above excerpts from Hetty’s diary, which she thought might be of general interest.



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Vivien Shannon
How fantastic that you have this diary. So interesting. A true piece of history. I remember aunty Hetty very well. She was a fine and lovely lady. It is amazing that she had this experience and that she recorded it for future generations.
Judith Yalon Fortus
Thanks Viv, there aren't many people around who still remember her. Simcha, as Churchill said when chided for putting a preposition at the end of a sentence: "Up with this I will not put!"
Leila Hart
Dearest Judith, I was very thrilled to read your mother's diary ,one could see it, and feel it "through her eyes," what I enjoyed was her enthusiasm and observation, Sim sent it on to me.....Love Leila
Fascinating reading.It is easy to see where your erudition and love of language stem from or shall I remove the preposition and place it somewhere else?
Faiz Ismail
These story aren't usually heard most. Love the article. Every one should embrace such achievement in life.

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About the author

Hetty Smith

Hetty Smith was born (circa) 1906, in London. Her parents were from Lithuania. She married Alf (Abraham) Glick in 1934. Hetty died in 1948, aged 43.

Hettys two children are:  ...

Judith Yalon Fortus

Judith Yalon Fortus was born in London UK and schooled in Llwyn-y-Bryn High School for Girls, Swansea, South Wales. She graduated from Tel Aviv School of Interpreters, 1963. She was a member of Hab...

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