The Argyll and Sutherland
Palestine 1947 - 1948
All photographs are the property of RHQ Argylls and may not be reproduced or copied without permission from RHQ Argylls.
PALESTINE - INTERNAL SECURITY DUTIES
The Battalion arrived in Egypt on 7th December and was accommodated in a tented camp at Moascar. It joined 8 Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier J. G. Bedford-Roberts (late A. & S.H.), now composed of 1 Suffolk Regiment, 1 South Lancashire Regiment and 1 A. & S.H. The camp was uncomfortable, and living conditions generally compared un-favourably with those in Jerusalem, and not many days had elapsed before many were anxious to return there.
Click on picture to enlarge
There were, however, many advantages in Moascar; guard duties were light; everybody was able to get a much-needed rest, after the average of three nights in six in bed in Jerusalem; men were able to get out every evening and enjoy the welfare facilities in Ismailia, and the Battalion had the opportunity of refitting, reorganising and training.
On 12th January 1947 Lt.-Colonel E. A. F. Macpherson, M.C., arrived in Egypt and assumed command of the Battalion, and a week later the rest in Egypt was over and the Battalion moved back to Palestine, where it was accommodated in a tented camp at Quastina, on the main Gaza-Ramleh road and about 25 miles north of Gaza. In this predominantly Arab country, duties were not unduly heavy.
Besides the normal main-gate and perimeter guards, one detachment of platoon strength was stationed at Al Jura, as a reserve force on the beach, to deal with any attempt at illegal entry. Accommodation and amenities in camp were an improvement on Moascar. There was reasonable opportunity to train, and all companies were able to fire their annual musketry course. The first quarter of 1947 proved an unlucky period for the Battalion. During a field firing exercise in the Sinai Desert, a shell fell short on Battalion Headquarters; Lt. J. D. Bethune received wounds from which he died on the way to hospital. Pte. Winton also was wounded. A few days later C.Q.M.S. Farquharson died suddenly in hospital, and in March C.S.M. A. Logie died of a sudden heart attack.
Prior to his leaving Palestine, the G.O.C., Lt.-General Sir Evelyn Barker, K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O., M.C., visited the Battalion, and on i6th February the Colonel of the Regiment, Lt.-General G. H. A. MacMillan, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C., now appointed G.O.C., stayed for a night with the Battalion and took the salute at the Annual Commemoration Service the following day. The only operational duty that fell to the Battalion during this first quarter was the cordoning of Petah Tiqva, on 27th January, during a search for kidnapped British personnel. The operation lasted two days. There was ample opportunity for sport. Division and Brigade staged inter-unit football competitions; Rugby football, hockey and cross-country running were all popular, while on l0th February the Battalion held a Gymkhana in which many novelty races were included. By the end of March the 1 K.O.S.B., and 1 R.I.F., comprising the other two battalions of 8th Infantry Brigade, and Brigade Headquarters, had moved back to Jerusalem, whither the Battalion was due to follow in the middle of April.
The Battalion returned to Jerusalem on 14th April 1947, and its Headquarters was set up in Alamein Camp, on the southern outskirts of the city; it was a well-sited camp, partly tented and partly hutted. The Battalion was dispersed round the area; two companies guarded Zone 'A', where the bulk of the civil administration was housed, and one company supplied guards over Government House and the G.O.C.'s residence.
In Palestine, heavy guard and operational duties did not permit the holding of ceremonial parades to mark occasions; nevertheless it was a period of many social events at which the pipes, drums and dancers of the Battalion played an important part. On 15th May the bands of 1 A. & S.H. and 2 R.I.F. combined to play Retreat in King George V Avenue; they drew large crowds of troops and civilians. A few days later the Arab Legion pipes and drums combined with those from the Battalion to play Retreat in barracks. The Arab Legion band had received instruction from Drum-Major Robson and Pipe-Major McGlinn. At the Government House Reception, on the occasion of the King's Birthday, the pipes and drums were again in demand, and the dancers gave an exhibition Foursome and Argyll Broadswords.
The announcement of the award of the George Medal to Lt. J. L. Masson was received with great satisfaction by all ranks of the Battalion. Lt. Masson had shown great gallantry in dismantling time bombs set by the terrorists, and the official citation ends with the following words:
'Lt. Masson has on two separate occasions shown courage and determination beyond his normal duties which has resulted in the saving of several lives. His examples of leadership and personal gallantry are an inspiration to all.'
At the beginning of June, Lt.-Colonel E. A. F. Macpherson, M.C., left for home on a duty visit and Major A. N. W. Kidston assumed command temporarily in his place. Lt.- Colonel Macpherson resumed command in July on his return from U.K.
The Battalion remained on in Jerusalem until 26th September, the day on which the Secretary of State to the Colonies announced to the General Assembly of the United Nations Organisation that Britain agreed that the Mandate should be terminated as soon as possible and that Palestine should become an independent State. The statement went on to declare that Britain would support any plan which was fully acceptable to both Arabs and Jews, but would not undertake to implement any policy by force of arms. If no settlement was found acceptable to both sides, then any U.N.O. recommendation must be accompanied by a clear ruling as to how it should be carried out. This statement was received with cautious approval by the Arabs, but it took the Jews by surprise, as they were unprepared for it. To begin with, neither side took the announcement seriously, and it had to be repeated many times before it was really believed.
There is little to record during this second tour of duty in the city—the work was always exacting, unpleasant and extremely monotonous, but in spite of this the morale of the Battalion remained high and the work of the sentries on gate duty and the general demeanour of all ranks was the subject of many laudatory comments in the local Press. There can be no doubt but that everyone was very tired, but the fact that they were able to conceal it and carry out their duties with undiminished efficiency was stressed by the Brigade Commander, Brigadier J. G. Bedford-Roberts, in his farewell address to the Battalion. The move to Sarafand, which took place on 27th September, was welcomed by all ranks.
It was a pleasant change from Jerusalem; accommodation was good, there was a cinema, shopping centre and an excellent N.A.A.F.L, and there were ample facilities for sport of all kinds. There was a big reduction in numbers required for internal security duties, and it was possible for companies, in turn, to be struck off all duties for training. The Battalion hockey and football teams both did well; the former won the South Palestine District Championship while the latter reached the semi-final of the Command Championship.
All went well until the policy of 'Partition' was announced on 30th November 1947. This led to an immediate increase in tension, with a corresponding increase in guard and other internal security duties. Trouble between the Arabs and the Jews started within forty-eight hours of the announcement, and it became necessary to escort Arab and Jewish W.D. workers to and from their places of employment. This involved morning and evening convoys, and they, together with the increased duties made necessary by the renewal of inter-racial strife, occupied the whole time of the Battalion; indeed, so acute was the man-power situation that guards were frequently on duty for seventy-two hours at a time.
Collection of photographs sent in by Lew Ellis:
On 8th December the escorted convoys ran into trouble near the Jaffa-Tel Aviv border. The morning convoy was fired on and grenades were thrown, but no casualties resulted. In the evening the convoy was again fired on and a thirty-minute battle ensued, during which Pte. Kane was killed and Pte. Shaw wounded.
So it went on for the rest of the month, morning and evening escorts to convoys constantly met trouble; frequent excursions were made, in co-operation with the Palestine Police, to stop fighting between Arabs and Jews; but in these operations the Battalion suffered no further casualties. By the beginning of January the situation in Palestine had deteriorated to such an extent that it could be said that active preparations for civil war between Jews and Arabs were in full swing. In order to preserve law and order it was decided that, when necessary, heavier weapons than those possessed by Jews and Arabs must be used. The policy remained that no more force than the situation demanded would be used, but preparations were made for the employment of heavier weapons such as fighter aircraft, field guns, tanks, piats, and 2-in. mortars, and conditions under which they should be used were notified to all ranks. There were many incidents in January, and these included the blowing up of roads and the removal of lines from the railway in an attempt to paralyse communications both by road and rail.
On 3rd February the Battalion left Sarafand and relieved 1 K.O.S.B. in Lydda. The 3rd Infantry Brigade, which the Battalion now joined, had three sets of commitments, the most important of which was a permanent detachment of two companies on the Jaffa-Tel Aviv border; one of these companies had to guard the Jaffoon cantonment, which housed the civil administration and police offices, while the other enforced a nightly curfew on the mixed Arab and Jewish quarter of Manshiya. This area was the 'no-man's-land' between Jaffa and Tel Aviv. 'B' and 'D' Companies and three sections of carriers from 'S' Company took over this commitment on 5th February. During the fourteen days the Detachment occupied this trouble spot there were frequent clashes with both Arabs and Jews, during which one other rank was wounded. On 19th February 'B' and 'D' Companies were relieved by 2 Royal Lincolns, whereupon the Battalion took over the second of the Brigade commitments, the patrolling of the main road from Ramie to Jaffa. Here again there were many incidents, the most serious occurring on 29th February, when the immediate action platoon was called out to Rehovot, where a troop train had been blown up and many casualties had resulted. The 4/7 Dragoons relieved the Battalion on 1st March to allow it to take over the third of the Brigade commitments, static guards at Latrun and Bab el Wad pumping-stations and Ramie telephone exchange. To these were added the patrolling of the railway line near the scene of the outrage on 29th February.
Pictures of the Rehovot train bombing.
Back in the Manshiya locality again on 16th March, a platoon from the Battalion was involved in a serious incident on 21st March. A Jewish convoy which it was escorting was heavily fired on by a band of Arabs, and in the ensuing action the platoon commander, 2/Lt. MacKinnon, was killed. Eleven of the attackers were killed and fourteen captured, and the convoy succeeded in reaching its destination.
On l0th March Lt.-Colonel G. L. Neilson assumed command of the Battalion vice Lt.-Colonel E. A. F. Macpherson, M.C., who, on promotion, was appointed to command 61 Lorried Infantry Brigade.
By the beginning of April the situation in Palestine was approaching its climax. Many and varied were the tasks that fell to the Battalion at this time. The Arabs were now operating in large bands of from 300 to 500 and were constantly staging attacks against the Jews and looting British and Jewish installations in order to keep themselves supplied. To cope with this situation the Jews also increased the size of their bands, and Headquarters Palestine organised two mobile columns and held them in readiness to move to any part of the country. The fact that no untoward event was to mar the final evacuation was a tribute to the careful planning behind all the detailed arrangements and to the alertness of all ranks who had to implement these plans.
Incidents were frequent, many of which necessitated the intervention of the immediate action platoon. Slit trenches were dug in the vicinity of offices, stores, and billets as protection in the event of an Arab-Jewish battle for Lydda Airport. On 24th April the Jewish staff abandoned the airport, and among them were the flight control staff and the hotel staff. The following day the Arabs commenced to loot the airport. In spite of sabotage by Jewish operators before leaving on the 24th, the British and Arab staffs did succeed in keeping the airport functioning.
By 28th April the situation in the 'no-man's-land' between Jaffa and Tel Aviv had deteriorated; that day the Jews had launched a strong attack on Jaffa through the Manshiya quarter, and the situation became beyond the power of two companies to control. At this time the garrison consisted of two companies of 2 R.I.F., and as a first step to strengthen it 'B' Company was ordered into Jaffa at 11 a.m. on the 28th. On its arrival it found that some 500 of the Irgun Tzvai Leumi had crossed the boundary into Jaffa with the intention of capturing the town. They were being held by some 200 Arab Irregulars, and a weak company from the Royal Lincolns supported by four Cromwell tanks of the 4/7 Dragoon Guards. The fighting was taking place on a 300-yard front between the Jaffoon cantonment and the sea. On arrival, 'B' Company took over a portion of this line. That evening, back at Lydda, the rest of the Battalion less 'A' and 'C' Companies received orders to move into Jaffa as soon as possible. They arrived at 7 a.m. the following morning and found that Jaffa was a very different place to the town they had known only a month before. Streets were now deserted, and many of them were piled with rubble and impassable for wheeled traffic, shop shutters were down, and hurriedly built emplacements and road-blocks emphasised that a state of war existed in the town. On arrival, 'D' Company took up position on ‘B' Company's left, thereby completing the line from the cantonment to the sea. 'S' Company was kept as a mobile reserve.
Lt.-Colonel Neilson now took over command of all the troops in Jaffa, which consisted of 1 A. & S.H. less two companies, two companies of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, one company Royal Lincolns, one troop of tanks of 4/7 Dragoon Guards and a troop of armoured cars of 1 Life Guards. In support were a battery of 41 Field Regiment Royal Artillery, a squadron of R.A.F. and two destroyers which lay off-shore. On the 30th, 'A' and 'C' Companies rejoined the Battalion in Jaffa and took over the defence of the cantonment from the two companies of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, who were then withdrawn from Jaffa. For two days, constant, and often heavy, small-arms and mortar fire were directed against the Battalion positions by the Jews. On the 30th they occupied a building thirty yards in front of 'B' Company's right platoon and opened fire on it. 'B' Company replied with all available weapons, but it required the intervention of two armoured cars before the Jews were forced to withdraw after suffering heavy casualties. At times it was necessary to call on the field artillery, while the tanks of 4/7 Dragoon Guards were constantly in action. To the surprise of all, the Jews asked for a truce on 1st May and accepted the terms offered, which were as follows:
The Battalion was to move forward to a line running along the municipal boundary and there to construct and man a series of frontier control posts. These were to be on all roads leading from Jaffa to Tel Aviv, and for every British post there was to be a Jewish one ten to twenty yards away. No armed Jew was to be allowed south of this line and no armed Arab north of it. The Haganah, who had asked for the truce, undertook to clear all Irgun and Stern Gang from the area, while the British were to restrain the Arabs.
It was at 1.45 p.m. that 'B' and 'D' Companies started to advance to their new positions, and this had to be done with great caution as the power of the Haganah to remove the Irgun and Stern gangsters was suspect. These companies had three roles to fulfil, to search all houses for booby traps and terrorists who had not obeyed the order to withdraw, to give covering fire to the searchers, and lastly to face into Jaffa to prevent the Arabs from following up. By 3 p.m. the move was completed without incident. One company of Royal Irish Fusiliers came under command and occupied the positions vacated by 'B' and 'D' Companies with the task of preventing armed Arab intervention from Jaffa. Almost simultaneously with the truce, Arab forces began to withdraw and many Arabs were evacuated by sea. This was to simplify the forthcoming evacuation of the area, which, with both sides in close contact, would have presented a difficult problem.
The crisis was now over, the truce was respected and free movement was possible in and around both British and Jewish frontier posts. In the few days following the truce the garrison was reduced until only the Battalion remained with one company of Royal Irish Fusiliers and a troop of tanks under command.
All thoughts were now on the coming evacuation. It was anticipated that the Battalion would leave as soon as the Mandate was relinquished on 15th May, and all doubts were set at rest when orders for the evacuation of Jaffa were issued on the 13th. The 14th was to be spent at Lydda Camp, and on the 15th the move to Egypt was due to start. On 12th May the G.O.C. Palestine, Lt.-General MacMillan, visited the Battalion and went round its posts. On the 13th the Battalion started to thin out, and all troops that could be spared were sent to Lydda camp. At 6 p.m. the Union Jack above the District Commissioner's Office was lowered for the last time, the Last Post was sounded, while a platoon from 'A' Company acted as Guard of Honour. Early on the 14th all troops and the civil administration evacuated Jaffa and returned to Lydda. The evacuation went smoothly and no shots were fired. The Haganah followed up, but did not attempt to interfere. At this time Jaffa was almost a deserted town, only about 3000 of its normal population of 50,000 remained, and there was no obstacle in the path of its immediate occupation by the Haganah. Except for some desultory firing near the German colony of Wilhelma, the last night in Palestine was quiet. The Battalion was under way at 6.30 a.m. on the 15th. Just south of Gaza the column met the forward elements of the Egyptian Army. There were no incidents, and the Egyptians gave the British column a friendly cheer as it passed by. As darkness fell, the Battalion reached the Egyptian border and was played over it by its pipers.
After a day of rest at Rafah, the Battalion moved off again at 4.45 a.m. on 17th May to cross the Sinai Desert. It was a tiring drive, aggravated by many mechanical breakdowns and a blazing sun, but by 7 p.m. the column reached the east bank of the Suez Canal, where it spent the night. The following day the journey was completed, when the Battalion moved into camp at El Tahag, a camp which had been occupied on several occasions by the 1st Battalion during the 1939-45 War.
For two and a half years the Battalion had been carrying out the most exacting task that a soldier can be confronted with, duties in aid of the civil power. In Palestine these duties were more difficult and complicated than usual, for it was not the straightforward one of putting down a rebellion, but that of keeping the peace between two communities who had nothing in common and either of whom was likely to cause trouble. To add to the difficulties it was the transition period between war and peace, with battalions composed of short-service personnel of many regiments.
Through it all, morale remained consistently high. The ever-present element of danger was more of a spur than a deterrent, and operational periods were regarded as a welcome break to the monotony of guarding barbed-wire perimeters, and it seems certain that it was just these operational periods that were the principal factor in maintaining high morale right up to the end.
The heaviest responsibility fell on the junior leaders, officers and N.C.Os.—and, to their eternal credit, despite provocation, boredom and frustration, they never allowed themselves or their men to forget that their mission was to keep the peace. They did not realise it at the time, but they held the Battalion together in a very difficult period of re-organisation for the Army as a whole.
The last to leave Palestine was the Colonel of the Regiment, Lt.-General MacMillan, As G.O.C. during the last fifteen months of the Mandate, he carried on his shoulders a tremendous weight of responsibility, and it was a fitting climax to his work in Palestine that he should have been the recipient of a spontaneous tribute from all three Services on leaving its shores. He embarked in H.M.S. Phoebe, and as it steamed away, aircraft from H.M.S. Triumph and from the R.A.F. flew past in salute, while two destroyers and a frigate, which had preceded the Phoebe in line ahead, altered course 180 degrees and steamed by, while the ships' companies each gave three cheers for General MacMillan. The last tribute was left to his own Regiment, when it provided the Guard of Honour to welcome him as he stepped ashore at Port Said.
CASUALTIES IN PALESTINE
Killed in Action and Died of Wounds
2/Lt. L. Mackinnon Pte. Buchanan
Cpl. Alcorn Pte. Kane
2/Lt. McKendrick and 6
O.Rs., 24th October 1946
Pte. TL Barnes
Killed as Result of an Accident
Lt. J. Bethune
C.S.M. A. Logie
Pte. F. A. Smith
AWARDS AND DECORATIONS
George Medal: Lt. James Leiper Masson
The following officers, warrant officers, N.C.Os. and men were Mentioned in Dispatches for gallant and distinguished services in Palestine:
27th Sept 1946 to 26th March 1947
Maj. J. A. Penman, M.C.
Sgt. J. G. Hogg
Maj. H. S. Spens, M.B.E., M.C.
Cpl. J. Scholey
27th March 1947 to 26th Sept 1947
Capt. R. B. Gardiner
Cpl. J. P. McAlpine
Capt. R. A. R. Stroyan
Pte. R. A. G. Watt
C.S.M. D. M. Smith
27th Sept 1947 to 26th March 1948
Brig. E. A. F. Macpherson, M.C.
Capt. J. A. Gibb
Lt.-Col. G. L. Neilson
Pte. T. Miller
Capt. W. McGuigan
27th March 1948 to 30th June 1948
Lt. T. J. McAllister
History of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 1st Battalion 1939 -1954
Thin Red Line Magazines
Colchester 1948 - 1949
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Updated : 11 October 2014