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Thursday, 6 August 2009
Surafend, the massacre, Palestine, 10 December 1918, Milnes Account
Topic: BatzP - Surafend

Surafend, the massacre

Palestine, 10 December 1918

Milnes Account

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.



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Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: Surafend, the massacre, Palestine, 10 December 1918, Milnes Account

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 1 November 2009 12:20 PM EAST

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The Australian Light Horse Studies Centre is a not for profit and non profit group whose sole aim is to write the early history of the Australian Light Horse from 1900 - 1920. It is privately funded and the information is provided by the individuals within the group and while permission for the use of the material has been given for this site for these items by various donors, the residual and actual copyright for these items, should there be any, resides exclusively with the donors. The information on this site is freely available for private research use only and if used as such, should be appropriately acknowledged. To assist in this process, each item has a citation attached at the bottom for referencing purposes.

Please Note: No express or implied permission is given for commercial use of the information contained within this site.

A note to copyright holders

The Australian Light Horse Studies Centre has made every endeavour to contact copyright holders of material digitised for this blog and website and where appropriate, permission is still being sought for these items. Where replies were not received, or where the copyright owner has not been able to be traced, or where the permission is still being sought, the Australian Light Horse Studies Centre has decided, in good faith, to proceed with digitisation and publication. Australian Light Horse Studies Centre would be happy to hear from copyright owners at any time to discuss usage of this item.


Australian Light Horse Studies Centre

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