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Sunday, 2 August 2009
Surafend, the massacre, Palestine, 10 December 1918, Briscoe Moore Account
Topic: BatzP - Surafend

Surafend, the massacre

Palestine, 10 December 1918

Briscoe Moore Account

 

Surafend, 1918

 

The following account of the New Zealand perspective of Surafend was written by Briscoe Moore, A., The Mounted Riflemen in Sinai and Palestine: The Story of New Zealand's Crusaders, Auckland, 1920, Chapter XX. pp. 169 - 172:

The Brigade remained in bivouac at Richon until a few days before Christmas, 1918. It was during this period that the trouble over the adjoining native village of Surafend occurred. It was a regrettable affair, but since various more or leas inaccurate accounts of it have appeared in the press it is well that the truth should be briefly told here. Mention has been made before of the treachery of the natives—our men had suffered under this without the opportunity of redress throughout the Campaign, and the feeling against them was here to come to a head with, tragic results.

Adjoining the bivouac of Richon was the village of Surafend, the natives of which indulged in constant thieving from the camps near them. One night a trooper of the New Zealand machine-gun squadron was awakened to find his kit-bag being dragged under the flap of his tent by some thief outside. He immediately arose and grappled with the native. The robber was armed with a revolver, with which he shot his assailant in the abdomen, the New Zealander shortly succumbing to a mortal wound. This outrage brought the resentment against the natives amongst the men of the Anzac Mounted Division to fever heat. Had some drastic steps been taken immediately by the authorities to bring the murderer to book further tragedy might have been averted. What was done evidently appeared insufficient to the men by the evening of the following day, so that their anger flamed into action and resulted in their taking matters into their own hands. This they did soon, after dark, when hundreds of men representing every unit in the Anzac Division, New Zealanders, Australians, and English Artillerymen, surrounded the village of Surafend. The native women and children were first put out of harm's way, and then the men, fired by hate of the people who had brought death to one of their number, entered the village, set fire to it, and clubbed the male inhabitants. A Bedouin camp situated nearby was treated in like manner, a total of thirty-eight natives being killed in vengeance for the murdered trooper.

As no evidence was forthcoming at the subsequent Court of Enquiry, the blame for this massacre could not be fixed on any individuals or section of men. As it had been to avenge the death of a New Zealander perhaps official suspicion tended to lie on the New Zealanders. The only comment that can be made in the absence of knowledge is that such a thing was inconsistent with their good record.

General Allenby paraded the entire Anzac Mounted Division, and in a short speech "told page them off." After stigmatising the men who held such a high record of achievement and honourable service in the field as murderers, he said with dramatic effect: "Once I was proud of you—I am proud of you no longer"—turned on his horse and galloped away.

Although the action of the men in thus dealing drastically with affairs themselves is morally inexcusable, it cannot be too strongly stressed that the blame for the occurrence of this regrettable incident lay, in the first instance, upon the British authorities.

The British administration all through the campaign had been weak where the natives were concerned, and had pandered to them too much. If their attitude had been different, one of firmness and punishment where it was often deserved, the natives, who have no respect for anything but the "big stick," despite anything that humanitarians may say to the contrary, would never have dared to take the liberties with the troops that they came to consider almost their right, and this tragedy would not have occurred.

The writer is aware that some readers will think the inclusion of this incident in an account like this tactless on his part, as being one of the things best left unsaid. It has been included with the idea of giving the truth to the public, who can judge for themselves rather than form their opinions from accounts distorted by bias which have appeared or may appear in the press.
 

While in this bivouac the Canterbury Regiment received orders to leave for a destination unknown. Horses and saddlery were handed in, and the Regiment left, with the good wishes of their comrades, to form part of the garrison of Gallipoli. Canterbury left Richon in the middle of November, before the Surafend incident, and then, shortly before Christmas, the remainder of the Brigade trekked down to Rafa and went into camp close to the scene of the historic action there.

 

Further Reading:

Surafend

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: Surafend, the massacre, Palestine, 10 December 1918, Briscoe Moore Account

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 9 August 2009 11:47 PM EADT

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