The Lincolnshire Regiment
On Special Service in Malta and Palestine
19th September 1935 - 20th December 1936
SEPTEMBER 27th, 1935-JULY 14th, 1936.
EARLY in 1935, Italy's attitude towards Abyssinia became threatening and small frontier incidents were made the pretext of utterances on the part of Signer Mussolini, Head of the Italian Government, which led to a considerable movement of Italian troops to Eritrea and Italian Somaliland during the first half of 1935.
In August, 1935, it became apparent that Italy intended to undertake military operations on a large scale ; six or seven divisions—Fascist, Military and Native—had been concentrated on the Italian territories adjoining Abyssinia.
The 2nd Battalion The Lincolnshire Regiment, in September, 1935, formed part of the 14th Infantry Brigade which was in camp at Tow Law in County Durham. Subsequent Divisional Manoeuvres took the Battalion by march route back to Cattenck. It was during the final phase of the operations on the night September 13th/14th that the Commanding Officer (Lieut.-Colonel E. P. Lloyd, D.S.O.) was sent for urgently by 5th Division Headquarters and was informed that the War Office had decided to send three Battalions (The 2nd Battalion The Lincolnshire Regiment ; The 2nd Battalion The South Wales Borderers ; and The 1st Battalion The King's Own Scottish Borderers) to Malta as extra reinforcements in view of the delicate international situation.
On September 14, the Commanding Officer passed on the information to the men, the news being received with great enthusiasm.
Four days later, on September 18, the Battalion was played down by the Band of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Scots Fusiliers to Richmond Station, where it entrained in the drizzling rain at midnight. The Battalion embarked on H.M.T. "Somersetshire" at Southampton on the following morning. The troopship sailed at about 3 p.m. on September 19 with the three Battalions on board. Gibraltar was passed on September 24, the troopship being accompanied on its passage through the Mediterranean by H.M.T. "Neuralia" (with the 7th Hussars on board) and escorted by H.M.S. "Exeter".
On September 25, 1935, the Italian advance in Abyssinia began. War had commenced!
The Battalion reached the Grand Harbour, Valletta, in beautiful weather on the morning of September 27. Two other troopships also lay at anchor - H.M.T. "Neuralia" and H.M.T. "Nevasa" making three troopships in all, a unique spectacle and one not seen since the Great War. Few warships were to be seen, the Mediterranean Fleet having been ordered at short notice to Port Said, Alexandria and Suez.
The Battalion disembarked on September 28 and marched out, headed by the Regimental Band, to the R.A.F. Station at Calafrana - its home for the next nine months. During these months the Battalion was housed in two large R.A.F. hangars. The Officers shared the R.A.F. Mess.
It was soon apparent that strong defensive measures were in progress. Barbed wire surrounded all the Island's bays and inlets; specially constructed boom defences guarded the Grand and Sliema Harbours ; additional air squadrons and anti-aircraft units arrived from England. On October 15, two of the troopships left Malta for England with nearly 1,000 women and children on board - a voluntary evacuation.
During October the League of Nations enforced sanctions against Italy. Sanctions were limited in their scope and several nations refused to come in-among the more important being Germany, Austria, Hungary and the United States.
A suggestion to impose a sanction on oil met with little favour among the nations supporting the League. In the meanwhile the Italian advance in Abyssinia made little progress and Marshal De Bono was replaced by Marshal Graziani as Commander-in-Chief of the Italian Armies.
In Malta practice air raids became a common-place occurrence and schemes of defence were put into force and rehearsed - but beyond this the Battalion led a very peaceful existence during an unusually fine and pleasant winter. Games, Horse Racing, Sailing and Tombola helped to pass the time.
The Battalion's reputation at marching was maintained throughout the winter months when visits were made to places of interest on the Island, including Boschetto Gardsns, Hagiar Kim, Mnaidra, Torri Zurnek and St. Thomas' Fort. On one occasion we were most hospitably entertained by the 1st Battalion The King's Own Scottish Borderers at Flonana during the mid-day halt.
Owing to its absence abroad the Battalion was net able to take part in the Army Inter-Unit Cross-Country Championship, and so lost the opportunity of winning the Challenge Cup for the second year in succession. It was gratifying, however, to find that the difficulties occasioned by a move overseas did not prevent a worthy team being selected for the Malta Command Cross-Country Challenge Cup which was won by the Battalion. Once again Lance Serjeant C. Bloodworth, by his inspiration and enthusiasm, was largely responsible for the success. Details of the result were as follows:-
|1st (Challenge Cup)||2nd Battalion The Lincolnshire Regiment.|
|2nd||2nd Battalion The Rifle Brigade.|
|3rd||1st Battalion The King's Own Scottish Borderers.|
The following represented the Battalion :-
Lance Serjeant C. Bloodworth (Captain).
Corporal E. Baines.
Lance Corporal J. Hickhng.
Lance Corporal G. Coleman.
Signaller R. Bailey.
Signaller H. Beckett.
Signaller P. Bryant.
Private S. Ayre.
Private H. Everett.
Private W. Lilley.
Private E. Mackinder.
Private J. North.
Private W. Parsons.
Private E. Topliss.
Private T. Welch.
Lance Corporal A. Berry. (Reserve)
Private K. Levack. (Reserve)
A very praiseworthy effort was made by the Battalion Boxing Team to win the Malta Command Inter-Unit Boxing Tournament. After hard fights in the preliminary rounds, the Battalion was only beaten in the final against the 2nd Battalion The South Wales Borderers by the result of the last fight. The following represented the Battalion:-
|Bantam weight||Pte. S. Carnell.|
|Feather weight||Pte. E. Topliss.|
|Light weight||Pte. A. Brotherhood.
Pte. E. Marsh.
Pte. A. Adams.
|Welter weight||Pte. W. Davis.
Pte. J. Fail.
Pte. C. Rickus.
|Middle weight||Pte. T. Starbuck.
Lance Cpl. F. Smith.
|Light Heavy weight||Lance Cpl. R. Smith.|
|Heavy weight||Lance Cpl. C. Elkmgton.|
Every opportunity was taken of the exceptional facilities, which Malta offers, for swimming. Every man in the Battalion became quite at home in the water, and many gained Royal Humane Society silver medals and bronze medallions. At the Sports organised by the Aquatic Sports Club, St. Julians, the Battalion gained some notable successes which included 100 Yards Back Stroke and Medley Relay Races. Among the many who helped to raise the standard of swimming and Water Polo, the following were prominent:-
Second Lieutenant J. H. Vanan, C.S.M. H. Hopper, Bandsmen S. Perrin and R. Guttridge and Signaller R. Steele.
The Band of the Battalion was kept busy visiting towns and villages on the Island and giving perfor¬mances in the Squares. The many thousands who attended testified to their love of music and the enthusiasm displayed proved their appreciation of good playing, under the able direction of Bandmaster R. Williams. His Excellency The Governor, Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Bonham-Carter, K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., was present at the performances given at Zeitun, Ashiak, Birzebuggia, Gudia and Cospicua.
The Corps of Drums was also able to show its merit when, under Drum-Major H. Butters, it played at the Ceremony of Beating Retreat in Valletta on the Square outside the old Palace of the Grandmasters of the Knights of Malta.
Malta, in common with the Great Family of British Peoples, deeply mourned the loss of His Majesty King George the Fifth. At the Memorial Service held in St. Paul's Cathedral, Valletta, the King's Colour of the Battalion was slowly borne by Second Lieutenant H. J. C. Thomas, with Serjeants C. Eltham and G. Bostock and Lance Serjeant J. Fairfield as escort, up the Nave and laid upon the Altar. The Battalion also provided the Escort of 100 rank and file under the command of Captain P. G. C. Preston who had with him Second Lieutenant 0. A. J. Cary-Elwes, Company Serjeant Majors H. Hopper and C. Haviland and Serjeants C. Semmens and B. Gell.
In April, the Italian Armies in Abyssinia made a forward move, but it was not until gas was introduced that any appreciable advance was made. A badly armed and unprepared nation then gave way under the strain, and a thrust made by mechanized Italian columns met with such instantaneous success that the capital of Abyssinia—Addis Ababa—fell into the hands of the Italians. Haile Selassie, Emperor of Abyssinia, fled in a British warship to Palestine.
The war ended in May though Abyssinia virtually remained unconquered, with large tracts still under the control of the various Rases and bandit groups.
On June 16, 1936, the League of Nations raised sanctions and life in Malta returned to normal, with the Battalion wondering what the future held in store. Within a month orders were received to proceed on special duty to Palestine.
The following letter published in the "Journal of the Royal Air Force College" and written by Group Captain J. Sowrey, D.S.O., Commanding the R.A.F. Station at Calafrana, gives additional information and contains some most generous and kind remarks. May we as a Battalion be allowed to express in print our sense of real and deep appreciation of the unstinted kindness and assistance given us at all times by Group Captain Sowrey and all ranks of the R.A.F. at Calafrana. Nothing was too much trouble for any of them, and the happiest of associations resulted. It was with the very deepest regret that we said goodbye.
Special Service in Palestine.
JULY 18, 1936-DECEMBER 11, 1936.
On April 19, 1936, the Arab High Committee in Palestine declared a general strike as a protest against the immigration of Jews into Palestine. In this connexion, it is of interest to note the wording of the Balfour Declaration:-
"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavour to facilitate the achievement of that object, it being understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine."
2. General Strike.
The general strike which started with the closing of shops in all the towns throughout Palestine developed gradually into a form of civil warfare as the Fellahin came under the control of the Arab political firebrands. As the months went by, the situation became more and more serious, and additional troops were drafted into Palestine to assist in keeping order. Eventually the call came to Malta and on July 10, 1936, sudden orders were received for the 2nd Battalion The Lincolnshire Regiment and the 2nd Battalion The South Wales Borderers to proceed to Palestine.
3. Leaving Malta.
After four very busy days packing up, the Battalion left Calafrana in buses on the afternoon of July 14, the Band and personnel of the Royal Air Force Station at Calafrana giving the unit a big send off.
On arrival at the Grand Harbour the Battalion debussed and embarked on two "Beetles" (lighters), which had been employed in the Gallipoh campaign, and was conveyed by them to H.M.T. "Neuralia" which was lying in harbour after a quick passage from England.
As soon as the Battalion had embarked the 2nd Battalion The South Wales Borderers followed and the transport sailed at 5 a.m. on July 15.
On the morning of July 15, the Royal Air Force at Calafrana sent a flight of flying boats about 70 miles out to sea to dip a final farewell to the Battalion. This friendly gesture was much appreciated by all.
The strength of the Battalion on departure from Malta was:-
500 OTHER RANKS.
|In Command||Lieut.-Colonel E. P. LLOYD, D.S.O.|
|Second in Command||Brevet Lieut.-Colonel P. H. HANSEN, V.C., D.S.O., M.C.|
|Adjutant||Captain S. A. CoOKE.|
|Quartermaster||Lieutenant F. WHITTINGHAM.|
||Major H. MARSHALL-"A" Company.
Captain J. H. G. LlLLYWHITE-"B" Company.
Captain J. V. FAVIELL-"C" Company.
Captain P. H. GATES-"D" (Support)
Company. Captain W. E. TOLLEY, M.C.-"H.Q." Wing.
37 Other Ranks were left behind at Malta and were attached to the 1st Battalion The Duke of Wellington's Regiment.
4. Arrival at Haifa.
After three hot but brilliantly fine days at sea, the ship came alongside the quay at Haifa at 11.15 a.m., July 18. About six warships (cruisers and destroyers) were also in harbour. Our new Brigadier, Brigadier A. B. Beauman, D.S.O., Commanding Palestine Northern Area, met the ship.
Haifa is now a town of considerable importance, containing as it does an important outlet for the pipe lines of the 'Iraq Petroleum Company. Extensive areas have been given over to the house-builders and a large modern city is springing up round the newly constructed harbour and on Mount Carmel behind. The major portion of the population is Jewish—mostly German.
All the baggage of the Battalion was out of the ship and loaded into railway trucks by the afternoon of July 18.
5. The Journey to Tulkarm.
At 6.50 a.m., on July 19 the Battalion left Haifa by special train for Tulkarm, with "A" Company under orders to go to Qalqilya on detached duties.
At Hadera the train was held up for six hours owing to a derailment at Qaqun (the next station). After this hot and tiring wait, the train reached Tulkarm at 3 p.m.
6. Arrival at Tulkarm.
On arrival at Tulkarm, the Battalion had a rush job getting settled in for the night. Tents had to be put up and baggage offloaded from the train. By dark, however, most of this was completed, which was just as well as during the night the camp became the target of Arab sniping. Kadoone Agricultural School, situated close to the Camp, was taken over by Battalion Headquarters and two Companies. It was due to the kindness and consideration shown by Mr. H. M. Heald (Principal of the School), and Mrs. Heald, that the troops who were billetted there were so comfortably housed.
Tulkarm is an Arab town, situated on the foot-hills which skirt the plains, midway between Haifa and Tel-Aviv (another new modern Jewish town). It lies at the base of a triangle formed by the towns of Nablus, Jenm and Tulkarm. This triangle was known as "the triangle of terror" and it was justly so named as within that area most of the fighting took place.
Within the triangle are bare and rugged hills, a safe haven for armed Arab gangs. Through these hills runs the Tulkarm—Nablus road which was piquetted daily by the Battalion until permanent piquets were established by the middle of October. To the north-west the country is flat and poorly cultivated. In the distance, and fringing the sea, are the Jewish settlements, some 12 miles away.
7. Importance of Tulkarm.
The importance of this large district is emphasised by the different units which were attached to the Battalion in order to assist in the task of maintaining order. These included:-
Detachments of the Royal Navy with a Pom-Pom and Searchlight, mounted on lorries. These were provided by H.M.S. "Sussex" under the command of Lieutenant R. Hughes, Royal Navy, and Lieutenant M. Napier, Royal Navy. Later, these duties were taken over by H.M.S. "Valiant" with Midshipman W. D. O'Brien, Royal Navy and Midshipman L. C. Barnes, Royal Navy, in charge.
Two Troops (Armoured Cars) 1 1th Hussars, under the command of Lieutenant P. M. Wiggins and Lieutenant C. de B. de Lisle.
"C" Company, 6th Battalion Royal Tank Corps, under the command of Major E. F. Ledward. Searchlight Detachment, Royal Engineers.
Throughout the period in Palestine, No. 6 (Bomber) Squadron, Royal Air Force, Ramleh, co-operated with the Battalion. On many occasions wireless "XX" Calls were sent out for air reconnaissance and the prompt arrival of machines in the air was always received with acclamation. Without the valuable assistance of the Royal Air Force, many Arabs would have escaped the troops operating on the ground.
The Haifa - Jaffa railway line ran through the area and was a constant source of trouble owing to sabotage and, although the protection of the railway did not come directly under the Battalion, it played an important part in the operations which were undertaken.
8. Sabotage on the Railway.
In most cases these acts of sabotage were serious and were caused by Arab saboteurs removing rails in front of on-coming trains. Several bad smashes occurred in the neighbourhood of the little village of Qalqilya, where the Battalion had one Company ("A" Company, later relieved by "B" Company) on permanent detachment. In one case no fewer than 17 goods trucks were derailed, although passenger trains invariably got through to their destinations safely. It was of vital importance to the civil and military authorities to keep the railway line open, for the railway after reaching the town of Jaffa runs through to Egypt and forms the main artery of communication in Palestine. It was only a single-line railway constructed by the British troops under Lord Allenby during the Great War. The difficulty of keeping the line open was never successfully overcome, but a great deal was done by providing pilot engines manned by naval crews, and Ford V-8 armoured trucks manned by troops of the 2nd Battalion The Cheshire Regiment which preceded each train as it went down the line.
9. Convoy Duty.
Early in the beginning of the general strike, and as soon as the Arabs obtained sufficient arms, sniping used to be directed on cars running on the main roads in Palestine. To overcome this difficulty a system of convoys was inaugurated and eventually two armed convoys went through Tulkarm each day, i.e., a North-bound convoy from Tel-Aviv to Haifa which ran in the morning via Tulkarm and Nablus, and a South-bound convoy which ran in the reverse direction in the afternoon. To enable these convoys to get through in safety, the Battalion was called upon to piquet the heights for about five miles along the Tulkarm - Nablus Road, and also to provide military escorts, Naval Pom-Pom and armoured cars for the convoys concerned.
The convoys varied in size and consisted mostly of Jewish vehicles. The largest convoy which came through consisted of no less than 63 vehicles. Convoys used to move at about 35 miles an hour, the space between vehicles being about 30 yards. Each convoy was preceded by an armoured car, Naval Pom-Pom, a wireless lorry and an armed guard found by the Battalion. Another armoured car followed up the rear of the column. On occasions the Arabs dug old Turkish 18-pounder shells into the road as mines, and were occasionally successful in blowing up a vehicle in the convoy on its way through. The convoy system remained in force until four days after the conclusion of the general strike, when it ceased to operate, and traffic circulated on the arterial roads once more without escort and without interference.
During the month of September, 1936, official sanction was given for the demolition of houses as a punishment for acts of sabotage. Alto¬gether 19 demolitions were carried out by the Battalion, assisted by the Royal Engineers.
This innovation undoubtedly had a dramatic effect and definitely reduced sabotage. Immediately any act of sabotage occurred, such as mines on the road or a railway derailment, the Striking Force of the Battalion was at once sent out and, before any warning could be given, surrounded the village nearest to where the incident had taken place. The District Commissioner (Mr. J. A. O'Connor), the Superintendent of Police (Mr. C. V. S. Tesseyman, D.C.M.) and the Commanding Officer then entered the village and selected the houses to be blown up. If possible such houses were those belonging to Arab leaders or organisers of terrorist gangs. When furniture had been moved and the villagers themselves had been collected at a place of safety, the necessary explosives were placed in position and the demolition carried out. Villages, at which these demolitions were necessary, included Anabta, Dannaba, Umm Khalid, Kh Beit Lidd, Wadi Kabaneh, Qalansuwa, Kfar Labad and Bala. At the latter six demolitions were carried out on one afternoon as a punishment for the battle which took place nearby on September 3.
On one occasion a large dump of old Turkish shells was discovered at Qafr Qasim. A raiding force, "C" Company, was at once sent by lorries to seize these and blow them up.
11. Establishment of Permanent Piquets.
Early in September, the Lt. General, J. G. Dill, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., arrived in Palestine and took over command, and Corps Headquarters were established in Jerusalem. One of his first acts was to order the establishment of permanent piquets on the hills covering the main roads and lines of communication.
On October 2nd the Brigade Commander (Brigadier J. F. Evetts, M.C.) addressed in Tulkarm an assembly of 9 Mukhtars of local villages and explained to them, in Arabic, that piquets were to be established, not only to guard communications, but also to guard their villages from the incursion of armed gangs. He asked for their co-operation and extended the friendship of the troops.
On October 7 our first piquet was established, and by October 17 six piquets in all had been established on either side of the Tulkarm—Ramin Road. Piquets were in visual communication with each other, and communication was established with piquets of other Battalions on adjoining hills.
Each piquet consisted of a platoon and the men remained in the piquet for a week at a time. The piquet positions consisted of sangars with an inner and outer wall of stone. Inside each sangar were 5 tents, to house the small garrisons. Cookhouses and ablutions lay outside. The ablutions were somewhat simple, as each man was only allowed seven pints of water per diem for all purposes. Rations and supplies were sent out daily by lorries with an armed escort.
Donkeys were hired and a Battalion "donkey squad" formed! The donkeys assisted in carrying up stores, rations and water to the piquets daily. They were driven out to rendezvous in lorries! The first efforts to load 8 donkeys in one lorry caused much amusement—the "donkey squad" being anything but well drilled! Later, the donkeys were almost ready to pull the lorries out!
Donkeys were, however, limited in numbers, and a great deal of carrying work fell on carrying parties who had to provision the piquets every morning. It was tiring work and entailed long carries up mountainous slopes.
Each piquet had an Arab constable attached. This man acted as interpreter. The villagers proved friendly and in some cases they assisted in the construction of the piquets. Arabs frequently came to the positions to sell vegetables, fruit and eggs.
Eventually some of the Mukhtars even invited piquet commanders to take coffee with them! Towards the middle of November all piquets were withdrawn owing to the bad weather and heavy rains, and the piquet positions were left in the care of the Mukhtars of villages.
During its five months stay in Palestine the Battalion was at all times liable to annoyance from rebel Arabs. Camps and Posts were sniped daily and no man was able to leave such protection unless armed and with an adequate escort. Piquets, when taking up or withdrawing from their positions, were frequently fired on. Night patrols on the main roads seldom returned without having had to reply to the fire of Arab gangs lying in ambush to catch any traffic using the roads.
The following are given as examples of the continual risks to which all ranks were subjected:- Three nights after arriving at Tulkarm a night patrol was fired on during its return journey and suffered severe casualties. Private R. Holmes was killed and Serjeant F. Burdett, Lance Corporals A. Haigh and L. Hillsdon and Privates W. Millmgton, E. Bull and W. Leeke were wounded.
When on detachment at Qalqilya, "B" Company was disturbed one evening when a bomb, thrown by a villager, exploded immediately outside the School which served as a billet.
A guard, being taken by lorry to the Civil Prison at Nur Adh Shams near Tulkarm, was fired on from the nearby hills and Private L. Harrison was wounded.
A party, under Lance Serjeant C. Bloodworth, while on its way at night to assist a Machine Gun Detachment in difficulties at an isolated post at Kfar Yavitz, was heavily fired on from orange groves by Arabs who were attacking the post.
In order to stop sniping of the camp at Tulkarm, "C" Company took over as billet a School, on a hill near the town, from where the snipers' posts could be overlooked. Soon after settling in, those occupying the School were nightly disturbed by sniping from close range although a Lewis Gun Post, mounted on the roof with a searchlight close by, did much to lessen this annoyance. More determined steps had, however to be taken. A minor operation, in which tanks played the leading part, was planned. On the night selected the Lewis Gun and searchlight held the attention of the snipers with occasional retaliation, while the tanks made a wide sweeping movement and came up unexpectedly behind the night raiders. Caught in the beams of the tank searchlights, which had been suddenly switched on, the Arabs tried to run away but 3 were shot down and their rifles captured. This was sufficient to deter any further sniping and "C" Company, on subsequent nights, slept undisturbed.
On many nights road patrols were sent out to ensure that the road was not being tampered with. These patrols usually consisted of armoured cars, Naval Pom-Pom with searchlight and one or more lorries each carrying a rifle section. This little column was frequently the target of snipers who were clever enough to take up their positions in the rocks, impossible to be reached in the dark.
On frequent occasions the Civil Police asked for troops to assist in searching villages where rifles were suspected to be kept. A force of one company, with machine guns, was then sent out before dawn, by lorries, and surrounded the village while the search was Carried out. Among the villages so searched were Zeita, Attil, Miska, Anabta, Bala and Kafr Rumman and, in nearly every case, rifles and ammunition were confiscated and the owners arrested. As punishment the village was fined but, being poor, it was sometimes found necessary to seize grain and animals. In one case the Battalion found itself in possession of a camel under these circumstances but no manual was handy to explain details of rations for such a beast, nor could it be discovered what 'words of command' were necessary to get it on the move, so it was handed back to its delighted owner.
13. Important Actions.
Actions of more importance, and in which considerable forces were employed, included those of which a short account is given below.
24 JULY. WINDY CORNER.
On the Tulkarm - Nablus road a successful engagement was fought by the Piquettmg troops, consisting of "C" Company, with a Machine Gun Platoon, who were fired on while debussing at "Windy Corner" - a favourite spot for Arab snipers. Fire was opened from both sides of the road by the Arabs who were well concealed in the rocky slopes. It was estimated that their strength was 40 riflemen. No. 1 Piquet advanced to its position, covered by the fire of machine guns, riflemen and Lewis gunners. On reaching the crest several Arabs were seen disappearing in the direction of Kfar Labad. Meanwhile the Piquets on the left of the road gained their positions, only to see Arabs retiring up a distant ravine. A number of sangars, recently constructed, were destroyed by the Piquets.
28 JULY. WINDY CORNER.
The Piquetting Force ("C" Company), together with two Platoons of the Mobile Striking Force ("B" Company), left camp in the early morning. As before they were fired on when near Windy Corner." Under the covering fire of a Naval Pom-Pom and machine guns, and assisted by two light tanks and two armoured cars, the Piquets established themselves on the heights on either side of the road, the Arabs withdrawing into the hills as our troops advanced. During this action a number of Arabs were killed and wounded and two armed Arabs were captured. Private J. Roberts was wounded early in the action.
Later in the day a reconnaissance aeroplane reported that a number of Arabs had collected in the olive groves in the Kfar Labad area, some 2 miles to the south of the main road where the piquets were established. One Platoon "B" Company and one Platoon "C" Company, with a Naval Pom-Pom, one Troop Armoured Cars (11th Hussars) and one Section Tanks ("C" Company, 6th Battalion Royal Tank Corps) were immediately sent out from Battalion Headquarters by lorries. The whole area was thoroughly searched but no Arabs were located. Qnt Arab, killed earlier in the day, was found. It was always found to be difficult to find Arab gangs in the hills as, amongst the mass of rocks, well concealed caves provided excellent hiding places.
10 AUGUST. WINDY CORNER.
In the early morning information was received that once more an ambush was being staged at "Windy Corner". This report proved to be correct, as the Piquetting Troops ("A" Company), after debussing, were fired on from the heights while moving up to their positions on the hills. The Naval Pom-Pom, two armoured cars and a machine gun of the Battalion at once gave covering fire and this enabled the Piquets to reach their allotted areas. Two Platoons of the Striking Force ("C" Company) at once started to carry out a wide sweep to the south of the road in the region of Kh Deir Aban and captured one Arab. The first air reconnaissance machine was overhead twelve minutes after the first shot had been fired and quickly reported Arabs near Bala, about one-and-a-half miles away. No. 4 Platoon, "A" Company, leaving one section on the Piquet position, followed up the retreating Arabs. Although the steep, rocky hills and trees prevented the main party of Arabs from being located, several were seen and fired at. One Arab, severely wounded, was left on the ground, smoking a cigarette the gift of his captor; three more Arabs, of whom two were wounded, were also taken. It was later shown that the Arab casualties on this day were considerably higher.
Later in the evening the following message was received from the Brigade Commander:-
"Please convey congratulations to troops engaged in to-day's operations which were very successful."
3 SEPTEMBER. BATTLE OF BALA.
An important action took place in the neighbourhood of Bala on this date, lasting from 9 o'clock in the morning until 5 o'clock when dusk was falling. The battle started when "A" Company, while moving up the hills to the Piquet positions, was heavily fired on by a large force of Syrian and Transjordian bandits under the leadership of the renowned outlaw, Fawzi El Kawakgi. The enemy had taken up carefully concealed positions behind rocky sangars and were skilfully led and directed. These Arabs were dressed in uniform and were well equipped and armed.
The Striking Force ("C" Company), which had by now deployed, worked round the east end of the hill on which the Arabs had taken up their positions and the leading Platoons were close up to the sangars when a heavy fire was suddenly opened on our advancing troops, with the result that several casualties were suffered. Corporal J. Wilkes, D.C.M., was killed, Captain J. V. Faviell, M.C., Commanding "C" Company, and Privates J. Dinsdale and C. Cudworth, wounded. In addition, two officers of other units were wounded ; one of our aeroplanes was shot down but landed safely with the Pilot, Squadron Leader H. M. Massey, D.S.O., M.C., Royal Air Force, wounded ; another aeroplane unfortunately crashed, both occupants being killed.
The enemy, after a heavy fire fight, was driven back towards Bala, the Battalion being supported by the Striking Force of the 1st Battalion The Royal Scots Fusiliers, one section 3.7 inch howitzers and Naval Pom-Pom.
The Arabs suffered severely, a large number being killed and wounded; eight dead Arabs were found in the area near to where Captain Faviell was hit and other bodies were seen as the troops advanced.
Aircraft co-operated throughout the day, indicating the movements of the enemy to the troops on the ground and bombing and machine-gunning whenever Arab parties offered a target.
This was the first occasion on which gangs, organised and led by Fawzi El Kawakgi, had been engaged in Palestine. The determined opposition and accuracy of fire, together with experienced use of cover and ground, showed that these bandits were a far different proposition to the local and semi-organised gangs previously encountered. It is certain that the defeat suffered this day by Kawakgi at the hands of the Battalion, assisted by those troops mentioned above, was even more severe than was at first thought as on no subsequent occasion did he start an offensive, with any large number of his followers, against British Troops.
Condolences on the casualties sustained by the Battalion were sent by the High Commissioner, General Sir Arthur Wauchope, G.C.M.G., K.C.B., C.I.E., D.s.o. The following message was also received from the Brigade Commander:-
"Brigade Commander wishes to convey his congratulations to Lieutenant-Colonel Lloyd and all ranks on successful operation against determined and formidable opposition and he most deeply regrets fatal casualties and hopes all wounded will have speedy recovery."
It is interesting to note that, on all occasions related above, the Piquetting Troops, with the co-operation of the Striking Force, fulfilled their primary duty of keeping open the road. On no day while the Battalion was in Palestine, were the Daily Convoys unable to get through to their destination.
24 SEPTEMBER. JABA.
During the afternoon an urgent call by wireless was received to assist the 1st Battalion The Royal Scots Fusiliers who had become heavily engaged with gangs near Jaba, 20 miles north east of Tulkarm. The Striking Force ("C" Company) embussed and was off within a few minutes of the order to move being received. On arriving near Jaba the Royal Scots Fusiliers could be seen engaged with the enemy on the bare and rocky hills but, as daylight was failing, our troops were not called on to deploy. The day's work really calls for no special comment if it had not been for the return journey when the lorry convoy, carrying the troops, for over 10 miles of the journey back, came under the fire of Arab gangs who were occupying features on the hills on either side of the road. A nasty experience in the dark.
29 SEPTEMBER. BATTLE OF BEIT UMRIN.
The Battle started early in the morning but the Battalion was not called upon until late in the afternoon when the Striking Force ("A" Company) with Naval Pom-Pom, one section Machine Guns, two mortars and one troop Armoured Cars, left camp to support the remainder of the Brigade comprising 2nd Battalion The Bedfordshire Regiment, 1st Battalion The Royal Scots Fusiliers and 2nd Battalion The Dorsetshire Regiment. After debussmg some 12 miles south of Jenin, the Striking Force advanced over very rough and broken ground.
The scene was one of peace and quietude, the still warm atmosphere of the passing day and the sheep and goats herds, tended by nomadic, shepherds, gave no indication that trouble could be expected.
On reaching the outskirts of the village of Beit Umrin a shot rang out from the olive groves near by, followed by heavier firing, until a fierce battle was very soon in prcgress. The gangs, under Fawzi El Kawakgi, had apparently escaped from the net in which the other units of the Brigade had hoped to catch them and were resting and taking cover from the fierce heat of the day. Our arrival was of equal surprise to them as their presence was to us.
The spurs of the hills on either side of the valley were soon occupied by parties of Arabs, obviously unprepared to start a battle and, at first, doubtful as to how to deal with their unexpected enemy. Evening was now closing in and, as it was not desirable to remain out at night in country which favoured the rebels, orders were given to withdraw back to the lorries on the road. By this time the enemy's fire was being directed from the front and both flanks of the Striking Force but our riflemen, machine and Lewis gunners, with accurate shooting, covered the withdrawal and prevented heavy casualties. Private C. Lockett was slightly wounded and Lance Corporal F. White broke his leg through falling down a deep ravine. The darkness, which had now fallen, enabled the Arabs to close in on our troops and it was mainly due to the gallant work of Second Lieutenant B. H. T. Barlow-Poole and Lance Serjeant W. Ashby that Lance Corporal White was able to be extricated and brought back.
As the troops neared the road the flashes of rifles, on the hills close by, could clearly be seen but the Arabs were prevented from interfering with the embusment by the well directed fire of the Naval Pom-Pom and mortars which had been left as escort to the lorries.
News of the battle had been rapidly passed to neighbouring villages and, for most of the 25 miles back to Tulkarm, the convoy was under unpleasantly close fire from parties lying in wait to catch us on our return journey. At one road bend the Arabs had constructed a road block of large rocks which was cleared by men from the leading lorries while the enemy's fire was kept down by the combined efforts of the Naval Pom-Pom and our own machine guns. Subsequent information showed that the whole of Kawakgi's gangs were in the Beit Umrin area and had been completely surprised by our arrival and it was established that two of their important leaders were killed. On the following day the Battalion was gratified to receive recognition of its efforts, in a message from the Brigade Commander:-
"Please convey my heartiest congratulations and thanks to all ranks under your command for their very successful action at Beit Umrin on 29 September, 1936. Enemy casualties are now placed at 42 killed and 15 wounded."
8-9 OCTOBER. ACTION AT KFAR SUR.
The trouble started when two tanks, carrying out a reconnaissance, broke down in the mountains about 7 miles from Tulkarm. Wireless and air reports stated that the tanks were surrounded by at least 30 armed Arabs and that heavy firing was heard. The Tank Commander sent up the S.O.S., followed by a wireless message "hurry", after which there was silence and all communication ceased. It was only natural that this caused considerable excitement and, from a small beginning, the affair developed into a major action.
Our Striking Force ("B" Company) left camp at 6 p.m. but, owing to darkness and the rough country, was forced to remain by the roadside until the early hours of the morning.
Two Companies of the 2nd Battalion The East Yorkshire Regiment arrived in lorries from Hadera at 7 a.m. (October 9) as reinforcements. During the day of October 9 the Striking Forces of Bedfords, Scots Fusiliers, K.O.S.B.'s, Dorsets, East Yorks, and ourselves took part in a huge drive across the whole area. The wild and rocky country enabled the Arab gangs to escape—the tanks were found intact. The troops returned to camp at 5 p.m., having spent nearly 24 hours in the field, climbing up and down precipitous hills on the hottest day of the year.
23 OCTOBER. ACTION IN MEITHALUN AREA.
At 4.30 p.m. on 23 October the Battalion Striking Force set out for Jenin with orders to search for Kawakgi and his armed bands. Cordons were placed round the villages of Sanur, Meithalun, Judeida and Sins. The Striking Forces of other units co-operated by surrounding other villages in the same district. All units were recalled back to their camps before any tangible results could be obtained.
This action caused a certain amount of discontent amongst the Arab population of Tulkarm, Nablus and Jenin, and accusations were made that the "Armistice" had been broken; in some cases Arab workers went on strike as a protest.
Fawzi El Kawakgi, with his gangs, left Palestine towards the end of October - 15,000 Arabs giving an enthusiastic farewell as they crossed the border into Trans-Jordania.
On October 12, 1936, the Arab Higher Committee called off the general strike. The following leading article, published in the Daily Telegraph of October 13, 1936, is of interest and describes the situation which resulted in clear terms:
"PALESTINE RETURNS TO NORMAL
SMILES AND CHEERS WELCOME END OF SIX MONTHS' STRIKE
TRIAL RELAXATION OF TROOPS' CONTROL
WARNING OF MORE STRINGENT MEASURES IF NECESSARY
From our special correspondent
With the ending of the Arab strike to-day Palestine resumed its normal life, for the first time for six months.
Shops, closed throughout the strike, reopened, markets were busy again, the roads were filled with vehicles, and everywhere smiles and cheers indicated the general relief.
A new military policy was announced by the General Staff this evening.
"Until Friday the British forces will adopt defensive tactics, responding only to unprovoked aggression. Escorts for buses will be withdrawn. The abandonment of anti-sabotage patrols and village searches for arms is under consideration. On Friday the position will be reviewed. Meanwhile divisional commanders will report what reduction in precautionary measures is possible. If the situation improves, pickets on roads and railways will be reduced and troops gradually withdrawn into the camps. At the same time the General Staff emphasizes that the authorities will have no hesitation in re-imposing the most stringent measures if necessary."
Order to Troops "Keep in readiness".
Lieutenant-General Dill, the Commander-in-Chief, this morning issued the following special order to the forces:-
"The strike and armed rebellion have been called off unconditionally by the Arab Higher Committee from to-day. This result is almost entirely due to the resolute and energetic action of the three Services, despite the hampering and difficult circumstances. The cordial co-operation of the three Services has enabled many severe blows to be inflicted upon the rebels and has made possible the maintenance of all essential services. Our thanks are due to the police, without whose loyal co-operation many of our efforts would have been fruitless. It is hoped that the campaign of murder and banditry will now cease. For some time, however, it will be necessary for all ranks to keep in readiness for instant action in support of law and order. I am sure that the three Services under my command will maintain the high reputation they have already established, and, by courtesy and consideration shown to the inhabitants, assist in the restoration of more normal conditions."
(Signed) J. G. DILL.
Jerusalem awakes. Noisy life restored.
In Jerusalem the dramatic change since yesterday was evident from the moment of awakening this morning. The city, silent as a town of the dead for the past six months, had suddenly resumed its normal busy, noisy life. The air was filled with the cries of street hawkers, mingled with the sound of cranking motors.
For the first time since April Jewish 'buses were running without escort, maintaining regular services to all parts of the city. In the shops assistants were busy dressing windows and arranging interiors, in many cases untouched throughout the strike.
On all sides Arabs were performing duties they had neglected for half a year.
In the old city the transformation was even more striking. I entered it just after special prayers had ended in the Mosque of Akhsa.
It was quite pleasant, after so long an absence of these features, to be jostled by donkeys, nearly knocked over by goats, importuned by peddlers, and drenched by water sellers as one descended David-street.
Traders busy again. Crowded cafes.
Everywhere shops were being opened and interiors cleaned. Pleasure at seeing again this busy spectacle, so well known to every visitor to Jerusalem, was somewhat tempered by the clouds of dust and other refuse which emerged.
It was quite a relief to reach the spice bazaars, from which sweet scents exuded, indicating that the inmates there had also resumed activity. The cafes were crowded, the gold and silver bazaars had re-opened their safes, the coppersmiths were working, and even the Turkish bath, so well known to every visitor, was doing good business.
Everyone seemed to be smiling, and on all sides one saw greetings and warm handshakes and heard the words, "Al Hamduhllah" (Thanks be to God). Everything indicated the general satisfaction at the return to normal.
It was the same throughout the country. In an all-day motor tour of Palestine, including the "Triangle of Terror" the notorious hill area, bounded by Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm, I encountered only cheerful, often mirthful faces, in place of the gloom of a few days ago.
On the Jaffa road, along which, in the past six months, almost the only traffic has been in guarded convoys, there was an endless stream of omnibuses, lorries, and cars, all unescorted. All the shops were open in the main street of Jaffa, and the town was full of Arabs, standing in groups and gossiping - a sight not seen there since April.
At Qalqiha, where attempts were made to wreck trains during the strike, triumphal arches had been erected at the entrances to the town. As we passed Arabs gave the nearest approach to a cheer I have ever heard from them.
Anabta, the scene of several encounters between British troops and Arabs, was the only place through which I passed where the inhabitants showed truculence. The approach to the bridge had been liberally sprinkled with broken bottles.
Mufti's pleasure. Big crowds at Mosque.
Back in Jerusalem I met the Mufti, Hag Amin el Hussemi, on his way to the offices of the Supreme Council in Jerusalem. He seemed genuinely pleased at the settlement.
He told me that he had been in the mosque since five a.m., when the first service of the day was held. The people attending that waited for the special service at seven, which attracted one of the largest congregations he had ever known.
After special prayers for the fallen and the future of the Arab cause, preachers enjoined the worshippers to return to their normal activities and desist from all acts of violence.
The Mufti expressed great hope for peace in the future, but it was clear from his conversation that he was determined not to abandon his efforts until the principal Arab demands had been secured.
The following Detachments were provided by the Battalion while at Tulkarm:-
One Section, "C" Company,
6th Bn. Royal Tank Corps.
|"A" Company, later relieved by "B" Company.
|Tel Mond||One Platoon||do.|
||"D" (Machine Gun)
|Kfar Yavitz||Two Sections||Each Company in turn.|
|Nur Adh Shams Prison||Two Sections||do.|
While at Tulkarm the Battalion was visited, amongst others, by the following:-
His Excellency The High Commissioner, General Sir Arthur G. Wauchope, G.C.M.G., K.C.B., C.I.E., D.S.O.
Lieutenant-General J. G. Dill, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., General Officer Commanding British Forces in Palestine and Trans-Jordan.
Air Vice-Marshal R. E. C. Peirse, C.B., D.S.O., A.F.C. (In Command prior to the arrival of General Dill).
Major-General (now Lieutenant-General) G. W. Howard, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., General Officer Commanding 5th Division.
Brigadier J. H. T. Priestman, D.S.O., M.C., Commanding 13th Infantry Brigade.
Brigadier A. B. Beauman, D.S.O., Commanding Palestine Northern Area and 15th Infantry Brigade.
Brigadier A. F. A. N. Thorne, C.M.G., D.S.O., A.D.C., Commanding 1st Infantry Brigade (Guards).
Brigadier L. Carr, D.S.O., O.B.E., Commanding 2nd Infantry Brigade.
Brigadier J. F. Evetts, M.C., Commanding 16th Infantry Brigade.
Two months, almost to a day, after the General Strike was called off, the Battalion left Palestine for England. The intervening period seemed to pass by somewhat slowly after the excitements of the previous months.
Troops attached to the Battalion were gradually withdrawn back to Egypt. A Military Cinema was opened in Tulkarm for the entertainment of the Battalion. Sightseeing expeditions were organised to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, no less than 260 men undertaking the trip. On December 11 the Battalion marched out of Tulkarm, with the Band playing for the first time since the arrival in Palestine, and entrained for Haifa where it embarked in the specially Hired Transport S.S. "California", together with the 2nd Battalion The South Wales Borderers and the 1st Battalion The King's Own Scottish Borderers.
Malta was passed in beautiful weather on December 14, when greetings were exchanged by wireless with His Excellency The Governor, and with the Royal Air Force, Calafrana. The Bay of Biscay was crossed on December 18 where rough weather was encountered and remained with us all the rest of the voyage.
At 9 p.m. on December 20 the California came alongside the landing stage at Liverpool, the troops disembarking and entraining for Cattenck on the following morning.
And so after fifteen months of Special Duty in Malta and Palestine, the Battalion reached Home once more, in time to spend a happy and well-deserved Christmas in happier surroundings.
Awards for Gallantry.
HIS MAJESTY THE KING has been graciously pleased to award the following decorations for Devotion to Duty and Gallant Con¬duct in the Field in Palestine during the period July to October, 1936:-
|Military Cross||Captain J. V. FAVIELL.|
|Member of the Order of the British Empire||2/Lieut. H. J. C. THOMAS.|
|Distinguished Conduct Medal
||Corporal J. WILKES
(Since killed in Action).
||Lance Serjeant W. ASHBY.
Lance Corporal W. GREEN.
Signaller R. STEELE.