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Tuesday, 4 August 2009
Surafend, the massacre, Palestine, 10 December 1918, Ted Andrews Account
Topic: BatzP - Surafend

Surafend, the massacre

Palestine, 10 December 1918

Ted Andrews Account


The following account of Surafend was put together by Ted Andrews from various sources, although the chief source being an anonymous diarist known by the nom de plume of "Kiwi Trooper". The commentary on Surafend appears in his book "Kiwi Trooper" The story of Queen Alexandra's Own, published in Wellington, 1967. This extract is from pp. 187 – 191.


Surafend Affair

The murder was promptly reported through the normal chain of command in the Anzac Mounted Division, and to the higher authorities but, for some reason, never explained, nothing was done. The immediate arrest of the murderer before he could escape further afield was hoped for, but lack of action next day worked up the feelings of the Anzac and U.K, troops in the vicinity to fighting pitch.

The troops had suffered casualties throughout the Sinai and Palestine campaigns by treachery of the Arabs, who were seldom, if ever, punished. All stores had to be guarded against looting, sentries were murdered, the dead at Rafa were dug up and stripped of their clothes while the treacherous ambush of Ain Sir was still fresh in the minds of the New Zealand troops. Also, not long previously, an Australian military policeman had been murdered in the vicinity, but no official action had been taken. Tpr. Lowry's murder was the last straw. A trooper states:

"After dark, at 7 p.m, that evening (10th December), a meeting, representative of all units in the area, was held in a gully in the sandhills. It was addressed by an A.L.H, trooper, a small dark chap, an orator and organiser of no mean ability. He called a roll of units, then outlined the plan. Two hundred (of all units) armed with pick handles and waddies were to quietly surround the village within the hour. The head man was to be called upon to deliver up the murderer. If he did not, then all inhabitants would be extracted, women and children let loose and all men soundly thrashed. This duly began but, in the event, the men resisted fiercely with a variety of weapons and a general melee ensued in which 40 were killed and the village fired."

The "History of the W.M.R." says:

"A party of some 200 men demanded the production of the murderer. No satisfactory reply being forthcoming, the old men, women and children were taken to a place of safety, whilst the able-bodied men were dealt with and the village burned.

"At a Court of Enquiry on the incident, held subsequently, no evidence was available to attach the blame to any particular persons or regiment, such had been the secrecy with which the plans had been prepared. The Arabs gave no further trouble."

Just what the words "dealt with" mean is not stated in the above, but it was said that for years after, the young women of the Surafend district wore a most dissatisfied look, while, in choral circles, Surafend was famed for its male sopranos!

An immediate sequel to the raid was that next day, a deputation under a white flag came in from a neighbouring village forcibly escorting the murderer of the Australian M.P!: "Kiwi Trooper's" account reads:

"Our 2nd Sqn. "Q.A.O," lines ran east-west, with the M.G. Sqn. lines at right angles, running south towards the village, being the nearest to it. We knew nothing of the projected raid until less than one hour before it started. Five of us from No. 1 Troop went out to buy(?) oranges from a nearby grove and returned with a chaff-sack each which, strangely, cost us not a single piastre! Then some Scottish troops, in twos and threes, were going through our lines towards Surafend. I asked them where they were going:

“To the wee dustup the noo, doon in yon village,” they replied.

"Our much respected troop leader, Lieut. Bob Sutherland, told us to keep well out of it, which we did. We saw the flames go up shortly after. Surafend, or its ruins, were placed out of bounds later - it smouldered for days.

"The following Monday, 16th December, the whole Anzac Mounted Division was paraded on foot and formed in a hollow square just west of our squadron lines, under Maj-Gen. Chaytor. General Allenby, with his aide and standard bearer, rode into the square and, in a furious outburst of anger, addressed the parade:

"There was a time when I was proud of you men of the Anzac Mounted Division. Today I think you are nothing but a lot of cowards and murderers.'

"There was a slowly swelling murmur from the troops and then the count began: 'One-two-three, etc.' General Chaytor sensed the feeling of the men and told Allenby he would soon be unable to hold his troops. Without answering Chaytor's salute, Allenby wheeled his horse and galloped off to the strain of “Eight-Nine-OUT!!! We Anzacs were not men to be sat on!"

There were further repercussions of the "Surafend Affair." In his account of the last victorious campaign, General Allenby omitted all mention of the gallant part played by the Anzac Mounted Division and also blocked their final list of recommendations for decorations. He steadfastly refused to make amends or forgive their reprisal act on the village, but later relented enough to pass a supplementary honours list. Nor did the Anzacs forgive him. The incident was included in that excellent book, "Armageddon, 191.8" by Capt. Cyril Falls, published 46 years later (1964), in which he stated:

"Both sides had been in the wrong, but the (Anzac) troops more so than the Commander-in-Chief." This statement led to a furious outburst in the Press throughout New Zealand.

Many letters were written to the papers by men who were there at the time, and whose opinion of the Arabs, and Allenby for defending them, was low, to say the least.

In fairness to Maj-Gen. Sir Edmund Chaytor, it must here be recorded that he was away on leave when the murder and reprisal took place, the Division being temporarily commanded by Brig-General Granville de Ryrie, of the Australian Light Horse.

There was a brighter side to the "Surafend Affair." It was put to verse by one of the troopers who took part in it. Here it is, per courtesy of the N.Z.R.S.A. "Review," from their August, 1939, issue.

Sir General Edmund Allenby
A proclamation sent,
To all his troops in Egypt

That wheresoe'er they went;
The Gippo was protected
The dirty thieving crew,
And if this law was broken
A penalty was due.

This law like soldiers we obeyed
Right throughout the piece,
Then cannons stopped their shelling
The world wide war did cease;
We left new scenes of battle
And travelled back to old,
There fought was Edmund's knighthood
And lives were dearly sold.

A restcamp was erected
Near Richon's sunny green
Close by that now ill-fated spot
Where then stood Sura Feen;
Here Bedui lived as farmers
An honest game tis true,
But through the hours of darkness
They prowled the restcamp through.

One moonless night it came to pass
(A night when robbers shine)
A Bedouin came prowling down
The 1st Machine Gun line;
With stealthy step and wily glance
Up to a tent he crept,
 And there he spied a kitbag
Near where a gunner slept.

The bag was moved the lad awoke
And saw the Bedouin's face,
The coward fled-the lad arose
And straight away did give chase;
They ran a hundred yards or more
The trooper gaining fast,
A shot rang out-the soldier fell
For he had run his last.

The Heads were asked to take a part
To find the murdering cur,
But though they knew 'twas urgent
They didn't seem to stir;
The troops allowed them ample time
Then called a general meeting,
At 7 p.m. that very night
As time so fast was fleeting;
And there decided on a raid
That 'ere the day should end,
An honest life would be revenged
That was a soldier friend.

T'was a never-to-be-forgotten night,
The village was soon in flames,
The wallads knocked when sighted
But protected were the dames;
Although we are fighting Anzacs,
Our honour we uphold,
And treat the women fairly
As did our ancestors of old.

As morning dawned we stood and watched,
That devastated scene,
Where but a single yesterday
Had flourished Sura Feen;
We turned away in silence
But feeling justified,
That for our murdered comrade
We would have gladly died.

A week passed by in silence
Then we were ordered to parade,
Before Sir Edmund Allenby
We knew 'twas about the raid;
They formed us up in squadrons
On a bright December day,
And Chaytor prayed for silence
While Edmund had his say.

He galloped up towards us
With his staff in tabs of red,
And in the square still mounted
These very words he said;
"Cowards, cold-blooded murderers
"Barbarians by the score,
"I was proud of you at one time
"I am proud of you no more."
As soon as he was finished
The Anzacs laughed aloud
But Edmund turned without farewell
And galloped from that crowd.

From the diary of "Kiwi Trooper":

"We left Richon-le-Zion and the ruins of Surafend on Wednesday, 18th December, 1918, and trekked down the coast to Rafa in easy stages, about ten miles a day, arriving there on 23rd December. It was said, with good reason I understand, that the Aussies had planned to raid the wine cellars (believed to be the largest in the world) at Richon and Sarona at Christmas! The Heads had got wind of it - they were rather jumpy after the Surafend Affair - and, being in a Biblical land, rightly decided to remove us from temptation and deliver us from evil.


Further Reading:


Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: Surafend, the massacre, Palestine, 10 December 1918, Ted Andrews Account

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Tuesday, 15 September 2009 11:30 PM EADT
Monday, 3 August 2009
Surafend, the massacre, Palestine, 10 December 1918, Advertiser Account
Topic: BatzP - Surafend

Surafend, the massacre

Palestine, 10 December 1918

Advertiser Account


Adelaide Advertiser, 22 December 1919, p.12


 The following account of Surafend was published in the Adelaide Advertiser, 22 December 1919, at page 12.



Wellington, December 19.

With reference to General Ryrie's cabled comment on the New Zealanders' responsibility for the Surafend incident, a New Zealand soldier protests against General Ryrie fastening the blame on the New Zealanders. He says General Ryrie should have protested to Lord Allenby on the day the latter called his men "a pack of cowards and murderers." If he thought the Australians were not blameworthy General Ryrie should, in fairness to them, have resigned, as the only course left to a soldier and a gentleman. The soldier says native pilferers made camp life unbearable. A New Zealand machine gunner felt his kit being pulled from under him at dead of night. He jumped up and was shot dead by a native who presumably escaped to a near-by village. This was the culminating point of the men's sufferings in the hands of the thieves. General Chaytor, commanding the Anzac Division at the time, was absent. The men formed a committee, which requested headquarters to take prompt action to avenge the New Zealander's death and stop the Bedouin thieving. Had headquarters told the committee what was being done to remedy matters all would have been well, but nothing happened and the men decided that the village must be burnt. Less than half the New Zealand Brigade participated in the reprisals. No arms were taken - only pick handles and sticks - the idea being to get the women and children out, thrash every male Arab, and, if necessary, hold the Sheiks to ransom until the murderer was given up. The news leaked out and instead of a few hundred colonials there were thousands of soldiers, representing Great Britain and the Antipodes. Some of the natives showed fight, and about 30 males were killed. The women and children were removed before the fight started. Some days later Lord Allenby had the division paraded and said, "There was a time when I was proud of you men of the Anzac Mounted Division. Today I think you are nothing but a lot of cowards and murderers."


Further Reading:


Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


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

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Tuesday, 15 September 2009 11:29 PM EADT
Sunday, 2 August 2009
Surafend, the massacre, Palestine, 10 December 1918, Gullett Account
Topic: BatzP - Surafend

Surafend, the massacre

Palestine, 10 December 1918

Gullett Account


Surafend after the massacre


The following is extracted from the book written by HS Gullett called Sinai and Palestine,  Chapter XLV, Aleppo and the Armistice Aleppo and the Armistice, pp. 787 - 791. 

The Australians and New Zealanders in Gallipoli were shortly withdrawn. In their camps at Tripoli and on the Philistine plain the light horsemen waited, eager in the prospect of early return to Australia: But an unfortunate incident was destined to throw a shadow over the last days in Palestine of Anzac Mounted Division. Close to the camps of the three brigades in December was the native village of Surafend. All the Arabs of western Palestine were thieves by instinct, and those who dwelt close to the Jewish settlements were especially practised and daring. Throughout the campaign the British policy, as already noticed, was to treat these debased people west of the Jordan as devout Moslems, kin not only to the Arabs of the Hejaz but to the Mohammedans of India. And the Arabs, a crafty race, quick to discern British unwillingness to punish their misdeeds, exploited their licence to extreme limits.

They learned, also, that there was a disposition in the British Army to assume without justification that any looting and other similar offences practised by the troops against the natives had been committed by the Australians. Consequently, if the Arabs missed a sheep from their flocks, they were emphatic that a soldier in a big hat had been seen prowling in the neighbourhood. Seldom punished, they became very impudent in their thefts from all British camps, and at times ventured to murder. All troops may have suffered equally; but, while the British endured the outrages without active resentment, the Australians and New Zealanders burned with indignation, and again and again asked for retaliation, but without obtaining redress. After the armistice a few men of Anzac Mounted Division were shot by the Arabs, and the resentment in Chaytor's division became dangerously bitter.

The natives of Surafend were notorious for their petty thieving. Prompted, perhaps, by the knowledge that the Anzac camps would soon pass for ever from their midst, and emboldened by the immunity they enjoyed, they grew audacious in their pilfering. They were reinforced, too, by a body of nomad Bedouins camped close to their village. The Australians and New Zealanders, sleeping soundly, were a simple prey to the cunning, barefooted robbers, and night after night men lost property from their tents. One night a New Zealander of the machine-gun squadron was disturbed by an Arab pulling at a bag which served him as a pillow. Springing up in his shirt, he chased the native through the camp and out on to the sand-hills, shouting to the picquets on the horse lines as he ran. As he overtook the native, the man turned, shot him with a revolver through the body, and escaped. The New Zealander died as the picquets reached him. The camp was immediately aroused, and the New Zealanders, working with ominous deliberation, followed the footsteps of the Arab over the loose sand to Surafend. They then threw a strong cordon round the village and waited for morning, when the head men were summoned and ordered to surrender the murderer. The sheikhs were evasive, and pleaded ignorance. During the day the matter was taken up by the staff of the division, but at nightfall the demand of the men for justice was still unsatisfied.

Meanwhile they had resolutely maintained their guard about the village, and no Arab was allowed to leave. That which followed cannot be justified; but in fairness to the New Zealanders, who were the chief actors, and to the Australians who gave them hearty support, the spirit of the men at that time must be considered. They were the pioneers and the leaders in a long campaign. Theirs had been the heaviest sacrifice. The three brigades of Anzac Mounted Division had been for almost three years comrades in arms, and rarely had a body of men been bound together by such ties of common heroic endeavour and affection. From the Canal onward men had again and again proudly thrown away their lives to save their wounded from the enemy. Not once in the long advance had a hard-pressed isolated body ever signalled in vain for support. The war task was now completed and they, a band of sworn brothers tested in a hundred fights, were going home. To them the loss of a veteran comrade by foul murder, at the hands of a race they despised, was a crime which called for instant justice.

They were in no mood for delay. In their movement against Surafend, therefore, they felt that, while wreaking vengeance on the Arabs, they would at the same time work off their old feeling against the bias of the disciplinary branch of General Headquarters, and its studied omission to punish Arabs for crime. They were angry and bitter beyond sound reasoning. All day the New Zealanders quietly organised for their work in Surafend, and early in the night marched out many hundreds strong and surrounded the village. In close support and full sympathy were large bodies of Australians. Good or bad, the cause of the New Zealanders was theirs. Entering the village, the New Zealanders grimly passed out all the women and children, and then, armed chiefly with heavy sticks, fell upon the men and at the same time fired the houses. Many Arabs were killed, few escaped without injury; the village was demolished. The flames from the wretched houses lit up the countryside, and Allenby and his staff could not fail to see the conflagration and hear the shouts of the troops and the cries of their victims.

The Anzacs, having finished with Surafend, raided and burned the neighbouring nomad camp, and then went quietly back to their lines. In the morning all the disciplinary machinery of the army was as active as hitherto it had been tardy. General Headquarters demanded the men who had led the attack and had been guilty of the killing. The Anzacs stood firm; not a single individual could definitely be charged.

Allenby wasted no time in expressing his mind to the division The brigades were assembled on foot in hollow square, and the Commander-in-Chief addressed them in strong, and even, one might say, ill-considered language. He used terms which became his high position as little as the business at Surafend had been worthy of the great soldiers before him. The division fully expected strong disciplinary action for Surafend, and would have accepted it without resentment. But the independent manhood of the Anzacs could not accept personal abuse from the Commander-in-Chief. Allenby’s outburst left the division sore but unpunished. The affair had unfortunate consequences.

A strained situation continued until about the middle of 1919, when, after the suppression of the revolt in Egypt, the embarkation of the colonial forces was resumed. The Australians of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade and New Zealanders were on the eve of departure, yet the division had not been recognised by the Commander-in-Chief since the speech at Surafend. Allenby was then in control of the affairs of Egypt; he was visited by an Australian, who pointed out to him the unsatisfactory position which existed. He expressed surprise at hearing of the feeling engendered by his speech; the Surafend incident, he insisted, had deserved all that he said of it at the time; but it had not shaken, nor could anything shake, the deep admiration and even affection he felt for the Anzacs, nor could he adequately express his appreciation of their campaigning qualities and services. He issued at once a glowing and appreciative farewell order to the Australians, and at the same time wrote personally a tribute to their work in Palestine which is remarkable for its discernment of their distinctive qualities. This letter read as follows;-

''I knew the New South Wales Lancers and the Australian Horse well in the Boer War, and I was glad to meet some of my old friends of those days when the light horse came under my command just two years ago.

"When I took over command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in July, 1917, the light horse were already veterans, tried and proved in many a fight. Since then, they have shared in the campaigns which achieved the destruction of the Turkish army and the conquest of Palestine and Syria, and throughout they have been in the thick of the fighting. I have found them eager in advance and staunch in defence. At Beersheba, a mounted charge by a light horse regiment, armed only with rifles, swept across the Turkish trenches and decided the day. Later, some of the regiments were armed with swords, which they used with great effect in the pursuit of last autumn.

"On foot, too, they have equally distinguished themselves as stubborn fighters. They have shown in dismounted action the dash and enterprise of the best type of light infantry.

"The Australian light horseman combines with a splendid physique a restless activity of mind. This mental quality renders him somewhat impatient of rigid and formal discipline, but it confers upon him the gift of adaptability, and this is the secret of much of his success mounted or on foot. In this dual r61e, on every variety of ground-mountain, plain, desert, swamp, or jungle the Australian light horseman has proved himself equal to the best.

"He has earned the gratitude of the Empire and the admiration of the world."

There, between their great Commander-in-Chief and the Australians and New Zealanders, the painful Surafend affair rested. It was characteristic of the strong temper and of the frailties of both. Both had erred in anger. The sincerity of Allenby's final words to them was never doubted by the troops. Surafend, however, should not be forgotten. Without making excuses for the Anzacs, it may be said that the affair arose out of the simple fact that British regular officers entrusted with Australian commands in Egypt and Palestine, with a few notable exceptions, too often failed to grasp the vital fact that the narrow traditional methods of handling the soldiers of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales are not by any absolute law also the way to handle young men of the dominions. There is in the young British peoples overseas a genius, strong and distinctive, which must be considered in war as in peace.



Further Reading:


Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


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

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Monday, 3 August 2009 7:33 PM EADT
Surafend, the massacre, Palestine, 10 December 1918, Kinlock Account
Topic: BatzP - Surafend

Surafend, the massacre

Palestine, 10 December 1918

Kinlock Account


The headstone of Leslie Lowry at Ramleh
[Terry Kinlock photograph.]


The following is extracted from an outline provided by Terry Kinlock posted on the Great War Forum, 18 September 2005.


My research to date reveals the following sequence of events.

During the evening of 9 December 1918, Trooper Leslie Lowry was sleeping in his tent in the New Zealand Machine Gun Squadron lines near the Ayun Kara battlefield. He awoke to find someone trying to pull his kit bag, which he was using as a pillow, out of the tent. Lowry leapt to his feet and chased the thief through the camp and into the sand hills, calling for help as he ran. As he caught up with the thief, the man turned and shot him. Lowry was found lying in the sand, bleeding from a bullet wound to the chest. He died just as a doctor arrived, having said nothing. No witness actually saw the fatal shot fired, or saw the murderer run into the nearby village of Surafend. However, tracks were reportedly found from the murder scene to Surafend.

The men of Lowry’s unit, probably assisted by other New Zealanders and Australians, immediately threw a cordon around the village to prevent anyone from entering or leaving. They did not enter the village that night – they simply stabilised the situation and waited for ‘the heads’ to launch an immediate criminal investigation. But nothing happened: no military policemen arrived to conduct a crime scene investigation, no witnesses were interviewed, and no senior officer arrived to take charge.

The next morning, Chaytor sent an officer to GHQ to register his growing concern, and another to take command of the cordon. The men there were angry and frustrated, but they continued to wait for something to be done. The only response to Chaytor’s plea was a peremptory order from GHQ to remove the cordon around Surafend immediately. Chaytor tried to overturn this decision, but failed. When the cordon was removed in the afternoon, a steady stream of Arabs immediately left the village.

That evening, the men took matters into their own hands. A soldier of a neighbouring Australian Light Horse Regiment stated afterwards that New Zealanders appeared in their tent lines looking for support. Another source describes a secret meeting in the sand dunes at 7 p.m., where an anonymous Australian light horseman quietly presented the action plan to the men present.

Two hundred men, armed with pick handles, bayonets or iron strips wrapped in puttees or sacks, quietly encircled the village at 8 p.m. One New Zealand witness claimed that British artillerymen from the Ayrshire Battery carrying horse traces (heavy harness chains encased in leather) also took part.

Most accounts state that the village headman was then given one last chance to hand over the murderer. When the murderer failed to appear, the next part of the plan was carried out. The old men, women and children in the village were woken and taken out of harm’s way, and the village was ransacked, probably in an attempt to find Lowry's stolen kit bag. Any Arab men remaining in the huts were subjected to ‘a sound thrashing’. A Bedouin camp next door to the village received the same treatment. Within 45 minutes, the village and the camp were burning to the ground, and between 30 and 40 Arab men had been beaten to death or badly injured. There is no evidence to suggest that anything more than a severe beating of the adult men was intended. Most sources attribute the high death toll to the resistance put up by the inhabitants of the village. Suggestions that some of the men were castrated and thrown down a well are unsubstantiated.

The fires were seen by men in the 2nd LH Brigade, whose camp site overlooked the village, and reported to NZMR Brigade Headquarters. The Auckland and Wellington regiments were both ordered to send a squadron, and the Machine Gun Squadron to send a troop, ‘to preserve order in the village.’ They found Australian MPs and the Richon le Zion picquet already there. Lieutenant Lord gave evidence that, when he arrived at the village soon after 8.45 p.m., he encountered ‘a large body of troops coming away from the village. There was no rifle shooting at that time and I saw Bedouin women, children and old men sitting together near a hedge. They were quiet and nobody was interfering with them.’ Lord did not enter the village, as it was ‘burning furiously’, and, as there were no more troops in the vicinity, he returned to camp. The other New Zealanders cordoned the village and patrolled the perimeter, but no attempt was made to put out the fire. They withdrew at 10 p.m., ‘all being quiet.’ The old men, women and children moved back into the ruins of their homes and began to mourn their dead.

The next morning, GHQ at last took action – but against the raiders, not the Arabs who had allegedly harboured Lowry’s killer. Each brigade in the Anzac Mounted Division immediately convened a Court of Inquiry, but the men closed ranks and professed ignorance of the whole thing. No offenders could be identified by Arab survivors or by anyone else.

Chaytor was furious, although his anger must have been tempered by the knowledge that, had his pleas for action during the daylight hours before the raid been answered, the attack would not have happened. With no offenders to blame, Chaytor turned his anger on the officers of the New Zealand brigade. It was clear to Chaytor that the regimental officers had failed in their duty for not stopping the attack once it had begun. ‘The singular inaction of almost all officers can only be due to a very grave lack of knowledge of their duties and responsibilities, or to a deliberate neglect of their duty.’ Strangely, the only punishment that he imposed was to ban leave for all officers. No one was ever court-martialled for Surafend.

Many of the accounts written after Surafend blame others for the attack. Harry Porter, a New Zealand veteran, stated that the Australians attacked Surafend. Only a few New Zealanders – ‘the harder cases, say half a dozen’ – took part. Gullett lays the blame squarely on the New Zealanders, who he says were the ‘chief actors’, supported by the Australians. The Report of the Court of Inquiry conducted in the 2nd LH Brigade amounts to little more than a denial of any involvement by the men of that brigade. One New Zealander thought that the ‘skilled organising suggested that some of the old hands were involved. But I know in my mind that the tried veterans who had battled so far for so long, would not have gone to this length. The killing was the work of some unblooded gang that had never been under fire. I feel as certain of this as if I’d seen the whole affair.’ The British Army rebuilt the village, and, in 1922, the governments of New Zealand and Australia reimbursed the British Army the sums of £858.11.5 and £515.2.9 respectively.



Further Reading:


Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


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

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Monday, 3 August 2009 8:16 PM EADT
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:


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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