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Surafend, the massacre, Palestine, 10 December 1918, TVNZ Sunday November 22, 2009: "Day of Shame" Topic: BatzP - Surafend
Surafend, the massacre
Palestine, 10 December 1918
TVNZ Sunday November 22, 2009 : "Day of Shame"
On Sunday evening, 22 November 2009, in its magazine program "Sunday" TVNZ screened a most extraordinary story called "Day of Shame". By their own program description: "It was a war crime, an atrocity committed by New Zealand troops. They walked into a village and systematically murdered as many as 130 unarmed, innocent civilians. No-one was ever held to account, and the stain on our proud military history was brushed aside with a 500 pound pay-off. SUNDAY has tracked down a survivor and they demand New Zealand faces its past."
Generally, the sentiments expressed in the story were powerful and very human. It brought two families who shared a historical event together. Both families were victims of what happened at Surafend, one a New Zealander and another an Israeli Arab. It was a moving encounter as the program aimed to reconcile the loss felt by these two different families. As a social piece, it was very engrossing and personal.
The historical backdrop to the story was the Surafend Massacre. It was here that the story fell apart. Poor research made for inadequate history. In addition, claims were made that were demonstrably untrue.
This item deals only with that aspect of the story.
That the letter written by Mulhall and held by the National Archives of Australia makes the claim that 137 villages were killed.
Mulhall letter claim
[Click on picture for the Sunday extract.]
The commentary states:
... but no less than 137. Trooper Ambrose Mulhall's account is preserved in Australian archives.
"It was a most gruesome sight the manner in which their heads were bashed and battered"
The Mulhall letter from the National Archives of Australia is used as the backdrop to this segment and clearly given the impression that it was quoted from to establish the claim.
Prior to this story being aired on New Zealand television, in early July 2009, the Mulhall Account was placed on this site with a full transcription of the letter. The cursive handwriting was difficult to read at the time and still remains that way, thus requiring a transcript that is still incomplete due to illegibility. As a companion for cross checking purposes, the Full original Mulhall Letter was also made available for anyone seeking this information.
From the available information the following questions may be asked.
Does this letter make the claim of 137 bodies counted at Surfend?
A reading of the letter held by the National Archives of Australia indicates that the answer is no.
Is the comment "It was a most gruesome sight the manner in which their heads were bashed and battered" in the letter held by the National Archives of Australia?
Hence the commentary, inclusive of the graphics, on the Sunday segment does not match with the document that the program alleged contained that information.
So where does this claim originate?
The only known source for this commentary on Sunday comes from Paul Daley’s book, Beersheba, published in July 2009 at pages 281 - 282. Here there is a letter transcribed which allegedly was written by Mulhall on 12 September 1936 to Colonel Bell. We see only a typed copy of the transcription so we are unable to authenticate the provenance of the letter. Daley alleges that the original this particular letter is held by a certain Mr Douglas Wyatt of Tasmania. It turns out that this is the man who interviewed 3511 Private Edward Harold O'Brien (see the interview Ted O'Brien Account) in 1988, whose testimony forms lynchpin of Daley's conclusions that conclusively proved Australian participation at Surafend.
Here is the extract from Daley's book.
Transcript of Mulhall's letter in Paul Daley’s book, Beersheba, p. 281
I desire to inquire from you relative to certain facts concerning the Bedouin massacre Palestine Dec. 1918. In communications recently Sir Henry Gullett said that you Colonel Bell presided over a Court Martial concering the Bedouin massacre, I know of no such inquiry of any kind held into this affair. If such were the case would you be good enough to inform me (1) What was the nature of the inquiry. (2) When were the persons tried next.
I fail to see how you coul.d possibly be connected in the trial of them seeing that you were one of us whom Allenby charged with being a lot of cold blooded murderers and coweards.
You were there on parade that Sunday morning when Allenby made that criminal attack on us. I saw you there, you were standing in front of the 3rd ... Regiment and this is what Allenby said: "You who were not there know who were and know all about it but you are not game ot come forward and say so. You are a lot of cold-blooded murderers and cowards."
Are you aware that I had full particulars of the Bedouin massacre at the time but neither myself or anyone else had an opportunity to bring them forward. I was at the village at 7AM the morning following the massacre and I was astounded to see the numbers who had their heads bashed in by the use of blunt instruments. Being an experienced man in the detection of crim, I might say I resigned from the NSW Mounted Police to go to the war. I counted 137 dead within the village. It was a most gruesome sight the manner in which their heads were bashed and battered. The first thing I asked, why should soldiers use blunt instruments to do to death their victims when each soldier had rifle and ammunition. At this stage I was under ...
Let us assume for the moment that the letter is authentic. The evidence in the letter is contradicted by the testimony of O'Brien. In the letter held by the National Archives of Australia Mulhall states:
The Australians were not present there that night, they did not know there was any trouble taking place in the village that night. I was engaged for some days in these investigations and I say definitely."
In other words, according to the testimoney of Mulhall, no Australian's participated in the massacre and he makes a definite assertion to this claim citing his three days work investigating the crime - one might add that these investigations were conducted without any official sanction but on Mulhall's own personal initiative.
In contrast O'Brien clearly alleges that Australians did take part and in his interview he confesses that he was one of them - Ted O'Brien Account.
[Douglas Wyatt] What did you actually do? Did you go in and wreck the village?
[Edward Harold O'Brien] Oh, absolutely. Yes. It didn't matter. There was cows and ducks and geese: there were kids. But men: they all went for the men with the bayonet and they got it.
The O'Brien - Mulhall claims on this matter of Australian participation are totally contradictory. Here is the conceptual conundrum: once part of a piece of testimony has been contradicted, the balance of the testimony also is tainted as no certainty can be held for any part of that claim. Prima facae, it is or it isn't accurate. If part of it isn't accurate or tainted by contradictory testimony, then each aspect of the testimony needs to be verified by independent third party sources before being accepted as accurate testimony. Neither the O'Brien or Mulhall claims can be taken at face value and both require corroborating testimony before being accepted as accurate. One cannot cherry pick testimony according to whim. And yet this is what TVNZ have done without actually authenticating their claim with independent sources. Indeed, the TVNZ claims have the appearance of cherry picked sensationalism rather than an earnest attempt to get to the truth. While they are entitled to do this, by doing so, they are not entitled to have this claim treated seriously.
The result of this claim is that:
1. The Mulhall letter held by the National Archives of Australia makes none of the claims screened on the Sunday Program.
2. The Sunday Program uses a different source to that quoted, thus misleading the viewers.
3. The evidence upon which it did rely was tainted and thus unreliable.
That the thief came from Nes Tsiona.
The Nes Tsiona claim
[Click on picture for the Sunday extract.]
The commentary states:
Yes. I think it was a mistake because he was from Nes Tsiona not from Surafend.
This is a most extraordinary claim, both ethnically and politically, which should have been investigated prior to airing it. A cursive examination would have pointed the way.
Firstly, the physical identification of Nes Tsiona in relation to Surafend is important to place this claim in context. Below is a map displaying the location of Nes Tsiona. It is close to Surafend, Nes Tsiona being a few kilometres south west.
On the above map, Nes Ziona is underlined in white. At the bottom right hand side of the underlining is a Star of David, the symbol of Judaism. This map was drafted in 1917 to detail the localities in Palestine for the British Army. In a complex ethnic maze, Jewish settlements needed differentiating as they were considered to be friendly.
If the thief came from Nes Tsiona, it raises the following very important conceptual question: why would a Jewish thief run to Surafend, an Arab village, with the certain knowledge that he would be lynched if he entered that village? It makes no sense. In addition, the cap found on the scene was that used by the Arabs and not the Jews. The claim that the thief came from Nes Tsiona is clearly absurd in a historical sense. Here Ockhams Razor needs to be applied - the simplest answer is usually the correct answer.
There is an alternative place that might have been referred to - Wadi Hanein was also known as the Arab Nes Tsiona. If this is the place the man was referring to, then again there is a problem as Wadi el Hanein was a Jewish village with the Arab village being founded in the late 1920's, thus making the comment asynchronic and so not a possible solution.
However, if we delve deeper into the comment, we see it as a contemporary political statement - it was the Jews who were at the heart of his over 90 years of misery. The Jews were the thieves and the Arabs beaten up as a consequence. It appears to be an apocryphal tale of detailing the subtext of Arab-Israeli perceptions regarding their often toxic relationship. Consequently, on this reading it cannot be taken as a serious claim.
The result of this claim is that:
1. Nes Tsiona was a Jewish village.
2. It makes no sense that a Jewish thief would wear an Arab hat and run to an Arab village.
3. Arab Nes Tsiona was not established until about a decade after the Surafend Massacre.
With the enormous research budget allotted by NZTV to this story, it is difficult to understand the reason for these fundamental and very basic errors exposed in the program. Folks with access to the Internet can assess the veracity of the claims without the benefit of a research team and appropriate budget. One can only conclude that either the research team was just not up to the task and hence the very loose and sloppy research, or there was another agenda being pursued. Only the authors and producers of the program can give that answer. In the meantime, this program must be seen as flawed history and thus unreliable in content.
Note: A copy of this item has been despatched to the Sunday Program staff for comment. They have also been given the offer of right of reply and their response will be published in full as it is received.
Surafend, the massacre, Palestine, 10 December 1918, Milnes Account Topic: BatzP - Surafend
Surafend, the massacre
Palestine, 10 December 1918
Section on Surafend, taken from Imperial Soldiers by DJ Milnes, an MA thesis from the University of Otago submitted in 1999.
The raid made by members of the Anzac Mounted Division on the village of Surafend is an excellent case study for many of the ideas raised above. In the short term, this attack was in retaliation for the murder of a New Zealand soldier by an Arab, thought to be from Surafend. There are other reasons which helped to motivate this raid including the hatred of the Arabs felt by the soldiers, the common frustration felt by the soldiers towards the military authorities, and the concept of the "White Man's Burden", including how a British soldier should act and how he should be treated while in the Middle East. Overarching these reasons were the British Government's contradictory declarations with regards to the fate of the Middle East after the Great War, and its policies towards the Jews and the Arabs in the immediate post-war period. The raid has also been used as an example of emerging nationalism in Dominion units. This explanation is both false and incorrect.
On the night of 10 December 1918, the A.M.D. was in camp on the plain of Richon le Zion, between the Jewish village of the same name and the Arab village of Surafend. That night a thief stole the kitbag of Trooper L. Lowry of the 1st N.Z.M.G.S. Lowry awoke while the theft was taking place, rose, shouted, and gave chase to the thief. 1 Drawing a gun, the thief fired one shot at Lowry, fatally hitting him in the chest. The thief then ran from the camp. Lowry's shout, and the subsequent gunshot, roused the camp, and his body was soon discovered by Corporal C.H. Carr, who called for a doctor. The doctor arrived too late to save Lowry, pronouncing him dead around 1:40am. 2 At the Court of Inquiry that morning, officers gathered evidence in an attempt to discover the location of the murderer. The evidence presented implicated an Arab culprit, and suggested that the thief had run off to the village of Surafend. Lieutenant E.E. Lord said "from where the struggle took place, bare footprints led down towards the Native Village of Surafend". 3 Lord's suggestion of Surafend as the residence of the murderer was supported by Sergeant G.S. Bruce, who stated that the Arabs of Surafend were leaving the village, heading west, away from the soldier's camp and further into the desert. 4
Because the Arabs did not usually travel in this direction it is possible to surmise that they knew that trouble would be caused by Lowry's murder and were attempting to escape retaliation.
A picket from the division was sent out and the village surrounded to prevent more people leaving. British Military Policemen arrived later that morning to conduct the investigation. They entered the village, but by nightfall had found no evidence to link the murder to Surafend. 5 The Military Policemen retired for the night, leaving the guarding of the village to men from the division. That night, the soldiers, frustrated by what they believed to be a lack of will on the part of the Military Police to find the murderer, resolved to take matters into their own hands. 6 The division elected a "deputation" which went to the village seeking "justice". It is unlikely that only New Zealanders were part of this deputation. The sources all suggest that members from many different units in the Anzac Mounted Division participated in the raid. Trooper W. Daubin wrote in his diary "Last night a united force from various units raided and burnt a village and Bedouin camp", while in his interview, W.H. Owers specifically referred to seeing men from the Ayrshire Battery making their way towards Surafend. 7 In their interviews Ben Gainfort remarked that the soldiers of an English infantry division nearby refused to parade and apprehend those taking part, and H. Porter specifically mentioned the Australians taking part in the raid. 8 The number of men involved in the raid is contentious. W.H. Owers believed that about fifty men took part, while in their books, A.H. Wilkie and T. Andrews gave a figure of around two hundred. 9 There is no evidence specifically noting how big Surafend was to act as a guide as to how many men would be needed in the raid. However, C.L. Malore recorded in his diary that the "normal size of [a] village [was] 400-500". 10 If this were the case with Surafend, it is likely that Owers could be the more accurate, and almost certain that the estimated totals in Wilkie's and Andrews' books were too high. The soldiers surrounded the village to prevent the Arabs from leaving. The raiders then entered and demanded the headman. When he appeared, the soldiers ordered him to hand over the murderer. This he refused to do. 11 Surafend's inhabitants were divided according to age and gender, all women, children, and old men being placed outside the village under guard. The soldiers within the village then began to beat the Arab men with clubs and gun traces in punishment for Lowry's death, killing some and wounding many more. 12 No shots were heard, suggesting that firearms were not used. 13
In Behind the Lines, Nicholas Boyack alleges that the Arabs were mutilated by the soldiers, some of them being castrated before they were murdered. 14 This allegation is only supported by one source, Ted Andrews in his book Kiwi Trooper. 15 It is a surprising allegation given that all of the men interviewed by Boyack denied that the Arabs were castrated. When asked by Boyack if any of the Arabs were castrated, Ben Gainfort replied "no, they were not that callous. I would not think that was right". 16 The lack of evidence suggests that the Arabs were not castrated. Once the soldiers had completed their physical punishment of the Arabs, the soldiers set the village alight before returning to their camp.
A Court of Inquiry was convened the next day in order to investigate the sacking of the village and murder of its inhabitants. It ascertained almost nothing. A number of men appeared before it, but they were either unable or unwilling to give evidence as to who had, and had not, taken part in the raid. The entire division was placed under arrest, with those who broke bounds liable to be shot. All leave was stopped, all awards yet to be presented were postponed indefinitely, and Arabs were forbidden to enter the camp. 17 On 16 December the division was ordered to parade on the plain of Richon le Zion. Field Marshall Allenby, General Chaytor, and their respective Aides de Camps, rode through the Division and into the bare ground in the middle. Allenby then proceeded to address the Division, calling its members cowards and murderers. He concluded by saying:
"Officers, Non Commissioned Officers, and men of the Anzac Mounted Division I was proud of you once. I am proud of you no longer!" 18 Allenby and Chaytor then turned their horses and rode out of the parade ground, followed by their Aide de Camps.
A very different version of this parade claimed that Allenby and Chaytor were "counted out" and forced to flee for their own safety. 19 This story is presented by both Boyack and Andrews in their books, and by Porter and Owers in their interviews. 20 It is an appealing story as it demonstrates the "typical" Colonial disregard for discipline, their commanders, and the British, indicating the New Zealanders' and the Australians' emerging nationalism and their independence. 21 However, it is unlikely to have happened. There is a decided lack of evidence to support Boyack's claims. Only two out of the nine interviews conducted by Boyack support Allenby being "counted out". The remaining seven deny the event ever occurred. Only two books examined mention the event taking place, Boyack's seemingly being based upon Andrews'. The only diary entry discovered that records the parade does not mention Allenby being "counted out". Instead, Daubin wrote "11am parade and got a big lecture from General Allenby about village". 22 Such an event as counting out Allenby would almost certainly have been recorded. The characters of Allenby and Chaytor must also be considered. Allenby was known as "The Bull" and Chaytor as "Fiery Ted". Neither were the type to back down from a confrontation, especially an event as serious as wholesale murder and mass indiscipline. 23 It is unlikely that they would have during the parade. It is also unlikely that the officers of the Division would have sanctioned and supported Allenby and Chaytor being "counted out" by the men. Chris Pugsley made the point that such support by the officers would have destroyed discipline and respect within the brigade and the division. 24 It is certain that the soldiers of the A.M.D. resented Allenby's words, but it seems equally certain that the "counting out" event did not take place. Because it is unlikely that this event ever took place, it would be irresponsible to try and use it to indicate any form of nationalism and independence within the Dominion units.
From the evidence contained within the sources it is possible to discern several of the motivating factors for the raid. Dislike of the Arabs was almost certainly one of these factors. This dislike must be examined in conjunction with Said's theories and the common frustration experienced by the soldiers at the antipathy of the Military authorities. The Imperial soldiers maintained a vehement dislike towards all Arabs in the Middle East, and believed themselves to be superior to the Arabs. They took every opportunity to express this belief. Arabs had been portrayed in literature as fit only to be ruled, and this literature had circulated throughout the British Empire. Because of the official British policy towards the Arabs, many soldiers believed that crimes suspected to have been committed by Arabs were often not investigated, or that the culprits were not punished sufficiently. 25 Indeed, Moore goes so far as blame the raid on Surafend on the British Authorities for not installing enough respect for the Briton into the Arabs. 26 These crimes included such actions as the desecrating of soldiers' graves, shooting at soldiers, looting of battlefields, and the theft of soldiers' equipment. Most soldiers took the perceived lack of attention paid to these "crimes" by the authorities as an affront to their superiority, and by 1918 many of the soldiers had become intensely disgruntled. This disgruntlement, remarked upon in so many of the sources, contributed a major factor to the raid. 27 Through violence, the soldiers could vent their anger at the Arabs, avenge Lowry's death, revenge themselves upon the Arabs for their past "crimes", and reaffirm the soldiers' superiority and position in society.
As well as these local factors, the raid on Surafend was partly caused by Imperial policies towards the Arab and Jewish inhabitants of the Middle East. During the war, the Allied Powers, and Britain in particular, had made several contradictory declarations with regards to the future of the Middle East after the war. In some of the declarations, such as the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917, the British Government under D. Lloyd George seemingly gave its support to an independent Jewish state. 28 In others, such as the Hogarth Message of 4 January 1918, and the Anglo-French Declaration of November 1918, the British Government seemed to favour the establishment of an independent Arab state. 29 The publication of the secret treaties by the Bolshevik Government in Moscow in late 1917 further confused the situation. By these treaties, Anatolia and the Middle East were to be partitioned into spheres of influence, controlled and governed by Great Britain, France, Imperial Russia, and Italy once the war had ended. These treaties had been made in 1916, and were known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement. 30 By 1918 the Arabs knew of these proposals, counter proposals, and declarations. At the conclusion of the Great War, a delegation of Arabs travelled to Paris to take part in the Peace Conference with the aim of securing an independent Arab state. They were to be largely disappointed, as Great Britain and France partitioned the Middle East under the League of Nation's Mandate system, indicating that Britain had not abandoned its attempts to gain control of the area. 31
While these diplomatic manoeuvring's were taking place, Arab nationalism grew throughout the Middle East. Faysal, the son of the King of the Hejaz, led the movement in Syria, Mustapha Kemel in Turkey, Reza Khan in Persia, and Saad Zaghul Pasha in Egypt. 32 Britain, as the principal contributor to the Army of Occupation in the Middle East, was given the task of keeping order in the region, and preventing this nationalism from bubbling over into open rebellion. 33
It is against this back drop that the murder of Lowry took place. The apprehension of Lowry's murderer, or even an over-zealous investigation of the case, could have been used by the Arabs as a pretext for rebellion against British authority. Certainly, the potential for rebellion increased exponentially because of the raid on Surafend and the murder of its inhabitants, helping to explain Allenby's harsh words on 16 December 1918. This helps to explain the British policy. It may well be true that the authorities were lethargic in their investigation of Lowry's death. Placed in the broader context, the murder of one man was small compared to the acquisition of Iraq, Palestine, and Trans Jordan by Great Britain, the continued occupation of its pre-1914 Middle Eastern territory, and preventing a widespread rebellion. Britain was in no position, financially, militarily, or psychologically, to fight another war for the purpose of gaining control of the Middle East. The larger diplomatic context helps to explain both Allenby's reaction to the raid and his treatment of the Division. Allenby's task was to keep the peace in the Middle East when faced with simmering resentment and possible widespread rebellion. A massacre of those he was attempting to rule by those he was using to keep the peace meant that he was unlikely to let the matter pass by.
1 Court of Inquiry into Tpr Lowry's Death, 10/12/1918, NA WA Series 1/3 Box 6 File 1069.
2 Court of Inquiry into Tpr Lowry's Death, 10/12/1918, NA WA Series 1/3 Box 6 File 1069.
3 Court of Inquiry into Tpr Lowry's Death, 10/12/1918, NA WA Series 1/3 Box 6 File 1069.
4 Court of Inquiry into Tpr Lowry's Death, 10/12/1918, NA WA Series 1/3 Box 6 File 1069.
5 Pugsley, On the Fringe of Hell, p 287.
6 A.H. Wilkie, Official War History of the Wellington Mounted Rifles, Auckland, 1924, p 236.
7 W. Daubin, diary, 11/12/1918, Micro MS 4, ATL and W.H. Owers, OH AB 506, ATL.
8 B. Gainfort, OH AB 470, ATL and H. Porter, OH AB 504, ATL.
9 W.H. Owers, OH AB 506, ATL; Wilkie, p 236; Andrews, p 187.
10 C.L. Malore, Diary, "Discussion on Palestine", WAM .
11 C.G. Powles, The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine, Auckland, 1922, p 266-267.
12 A gun trace was a leather clad chain used to haul and secure the guns "if anybody got one of those and swung it round and hit you, it would kill you". Owers OH AB 506, ATL.
13 Lt E.E. Lord categorically denied hearing shots being fired at the December 11 Court of Inquiry. Court of Inquiry into Surafend Disturbances, NA WA 40/4 Box 5 Item 29/30
14 Boyack, p 164
15 Andrews, p 188
16 Gainfort OH AB 470, ATL. See also Owers OH AB 506, ATL; B Algar OH AB 443, ATL
17 NA WA Series 196 Item 3b.
18 Porter OH AB 504, ATL.
19 The process of being "counted out" begins when at least one member of a group begins counting from one. When the number ten is reached, all involved begin shouting "out, out, out!" If the object of the abuse does not then leave, they are liable to be forcibly removed.
20 Boyack, p 165; Andrews, p 188; Porter OH AB 504, ATL; and Owers OH AB 506, ATL.
21 Pugsley, On the fringe of hell, p 288.
22 W Daubin, diary, 16/12/1918, Micro MS 4, ATL.
23 Pugsley, On the fringe of hell, p 288.
24 Pugsley, On the fringe of hell, p 288
25 Wilkie, p 235; Powles, The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine, p 266; Andrews, p 187; and Moore, The Mounted Riflemen of Sinai and Palestine, p 171.
26 Moore, The Mounted Riflemen of Sinai and Palestine, p 171.
27 Wilkie, p 236; Moore, The Mounted Riflemen of Sinai and Palestine, p 171; Powles, New Zealanders in
Sinai and Palestine, p 266.
28 "His majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object" "Balfour Declaration", 2/11/1917. S.N. Fisher and W. Ochsenwald, The Middle East: A history, 4th edition, New York, 1990, p 385.
29 "The Entente Powers are determined that the Arab race shall be given full opportunity of once again forming a nation in the world". "Hogarth Message", 4/1/1918, Documents on Palestine, HIST 206.
" The object aimed at by France and Great Britain in prosecuting in the East the war ... is the complete and definite emancipation of the peoples so long oppressed by the Turks". "Anglo-French Declaration, November 1918, Documents on Palestine, HIST 206.
30 By these agreements, Britain was to gain control over Mesopotamia, Jordan, and the ports of Haifa and Acre. France was to gain control over Syria and South Eastern Anatolia. Russia was to gain Constantinople, control of the Bosporus and Dardanelles, and Armenia. Italy was to gain South Western Anatolia. Palestine was to left under international control. By this plan, Turkey would end up truncated to only the North Western part of Anatolia. Fisher and Ochsenwald, p 385.
31 The mandate system was a means by which a country could gain control over a region without outright annexation. The mandatory power, that is the one in control of the region, was required to submit a report each year on the state of the territory it controlled to the League of Nations. Mandates were classified A, B, or C. Category A Mandates were those most likely to gain self-government and independence, while category C were those unlikely to gain independence. The mandated territory of the Middle East comprised the modern states of Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Great Britain received Palestine (Israel), Trans Jordan (Jordan), and Iraq, France gained Syria and Lebanon. All were category A , though only Trans Jordan and Iraq were to gain independence in the inter-war period.
32 The King of the Hejaz, Sherif Husayn, had been instrumental in the Arab Rebellion during the Great War against the Ottoman Empire, and all the Arab irregulars who fought alongside Lawrence were nominally under Husayn. Faysal, his son, was Husayn's deputy, and had travelled with the Arab army. Soon after capturing Damascus, Faysal was elected by the Syrians (comprising people from the modern states of Syria, Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon) as their King. This caused considerable tension with first the British and then the French. The situation was resolved when Faysal's administration went bankrupt and French soldiers dispersed his followers by force.
33 In this, Britain was unsuccessful, for rebellion broke out in Egypt in 1919, and Iraq in 1920. Unrest also prevailed in Palestine, beginning in 1920.
Surafend, the massacre, Palestine, 10 December 1918, Spurious Claims Topic: BatzP - Surafend
Surafend, the massacre
Palestine, 10 December 1918
As with all events that attract attention, many people make claims for participation that when are compared against the evidence, does not appear to be accurate. Most police departments have their list of confessors to sensational crimes. So too with Surafend. The only real tragedy in this situation is the deteriorating quality of journalism where information given by confessors is not checked against the facts available, and in this example, readily available on the internet.
This article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 25 July 2009 called Anzacs' atrocity had to be done: digger, by Tim Elliott.
TO REGINALD MESSENGER, it was "just something that had to be done". He was a trooper in the 6th Light Horse Regiment at Beersheba in 1918 when he took part in what is emerging as one of the darkest, and and most overlooked, chapters of Australian military history.
Known as the Surafend massacre, it involved 200 Anzac troops, some from the famed Australian Light Horse, who retaliated for the murder of a New Zealand soldier by razing a Bedouin village in Palestine and murdering between 40 and 120 of its inhabitants.
"Dad told me about it numerous times," Reginald's son, Oliver, said. "He said that they were camped next to this Gyppo village and one day they woke up to find that some of their blokes had their throat cut and their things stolen. It had been going on for some time - the Gyppos would steal from them all the time - and so they decided to do something about it, because no one else would."
One night in December 1918 the soldiers surrounded the Bedouin village of Surafend, emptied it of woman and children, then fell upon the men with bayonets and heavy sticks.
"Dad never expressed any remorse about it," Mr Messenger said. "I gather that they had put up with it for too long. They were good soldiers, those blokes, but they didn't put up with any shit."
The incident occurred shortly after the end of World War I, and has been all but obliterated from the official record.
Just three pages of H.S. Gullet's 844-page official war history mention it, and neither the NSW Returned and Services League nor the Light Horse Association had heard of it.
A new book, called Beersheba, by the journalist Paul Daley, re-examines the Surafend massacre, and the long shadow it cast over the legend of the Light Horse, famed for their 1917 cavalry charge at Beersheba.
Daley says that, after the massacre the British commander-in-chief, General Sir Edmund Allenby, "wiped his hands" of the Light Horse, even maliciously withdrawing citations and decorations. "Dad said that after the incident, a general - perhaps it was Allenby - addressed the men and called them cowards," Mr Messenger said. "But the men just counted him out [counted loudly, in unison]. They just drowned him out, you know?"
A spokesman for the Australian War Memorial, said: "The Anzac legend is an uplifting one but, like all legends, there are some unfortunate aspects. But this doesn't detract from acts of heroism and bravery."
At the conclusion of the war, many returning members of the AIF told some stories that embellished their participation. It doesn't detract from their fine service within the AIF nor their courage in undertaking that service. However, it means that family legends need to be handled very cautiously. In the case of the story told by Oliver Messenger about his father, No. 3426 Trooper Reginald MESSENGER, 6th Light Horse Regiment, some cirucumspection was required, especially by Tim Elliott.
The complete service record of No. 3426 Trooper Reginald MESSENGER, 6th Light Horse Regiment is available online with the National Archives Site:
An examination of this service record brings to light a particular form known as the B103 which details a brief chronology of the AIF member's war service. The relevant page is reproduced below.
The B103 for No. 3426 Trooper Reginald MESSENGER, 6th Light Horse Regiment.
[Extracted from NAA Barcode 8012421.]
An examination of this document indicates that the last time Messenger was in the field with his regiment was on 11 October 1918 when he went to hospital with malaria. On 16 November 1918 he was sent to the Anzac Mounted Division Training Regiment located at Moascar, in Egypt near the Suez Canal. [For a simple locational map detailing the region, see: B103, Index to Common Terms] Messenger remained at Moascar from this date until 15 February 1919, some three months later. Since the Surafend Affair occurred on the evening of 10 December 1918, there is no physical evidence to suggest that he was anywhere near the site. Indeed he was many hundreds of kilometres from Surafend at that very time. The story told by Messenger was indeed heartfelt and aspirational but it was not factual. In this situation, Tim Elliott had an obligation to undertake this basic research rather than use it as a sensational article designed to promote a book.
The result is an embarrassment for the Messenger family and the Sydney Morning Herald let alone the research ability of Elliott himself. One would expect better than this piece from such a reputable newspaper.
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