Over 200 Soldiers(1) had surrounded the village there was to be no escape. A small group went into the village and demanded from the elders that they hand over the soldiers killer. The elders could not. It was highly unlikely the killer was from the village. Soldiers now moved in. The men were separated from the women and children. The women and children were made to watch as between twenty and a hundred and forty men (2) were beaten or bayoneted to death. It is not known for certain if some of the women were raped. At the time no soldier would admit to it. For religious reasons none of the women would admit to being raped either. Years later stories did circulate and rape was implied. (3) The village was burnt to the ground and the troops moved on to a tented encampment nearby and repeated the events that took place in the village. The massacre took less than an hour.
It all sounds like something that took place on the eastern front during WWII. A typical action by German troops for the death by partisans of one of their soldiers. A war crime. But it was not. It took place on the 10th December 1918. It was carried out by mainly New Zealand Soldiers from the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade, (NZMRB) with help from Australians mainly from the Light Horse, and Scots from the Ayrshire Battery Royal Horse Artillery.
The place was Surafend in Palestine, now part of Israel, at the start of the British Mandate. An Arab most likely a Bedouin, had crept into the lines of the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade to steal. The Arab had disturbed Trooper Lowry who gave chase. Somewhere between the New Zealand lines and the village of Surafend the Arab turned and fired at Lowry killing him. The weapon used was a British Army Service Colt revolver. (4)
The British attitude to the newly acquired imperial territories was enlighten. There was no religious persicution. Petty crime did not justify British involvement. Basically a lot of tolerance was shown life for the people there life for the Arab, Bedouin, or Jew carried on as they wanted it to. The men of the NZMRB were outraged. something had to be done. Meetings were hastily convened and representatives went out to other units of the ANZAC Mounted Division that were nearby. That night the soldiers entered the village and carried out the massacre. The flames could be seen from Allenby’s Head quarters. This was not how Allenby expected the soldiers from any of the units under his command to act,. let alone the soldiers of the ANZAC Mounted Division. Soldiers were questioed but no names were given and no one was or could be charged. A few days later the entire Division was paraded and Allenby rode in to address them. No record of exactly what he said appear to remain, but various accounts, including “Horseman, Pass By” by Lindsay Baly are clear it was along the lines of Allenby shouting at the man that the action was worse than any atrocity committed by the Turks, and he was no longer proud of them. Other accounts say that Allenby called them cowards, which they were not, and murderers which they certainly were. Allenby never forgave the new Zealanders but he did write a glowing report of the Australians when they left for home in 1919.
The Governments of Australia, Britain, and New Zealand all paid compensation to the British governing authority for the massacre. There was no cover up, the massacre is mentioned in War Diaries of the ANZAC Mounted Division. It was not a War Crime, the war was over. It was a disgusting atrocity, a stain on ANZAC. NZMRB, and Ayrshire Battery memory and honour, that some wish would simply go away.
(1) The exact number will never be known, but to completely surround the village with enough soldiers left to go into and carry out the massacre 200 soldiers would seem on the low side.
(2) accounts vary, but no one was bothered enough to count.
(3) See awful “poem” about Surafend on the light Horse Study web page.
(4) This is all in Trooper Lowry’s service record.