Amongst the many anniversaries being commemorated or acknowledged—the start of the Advance to Victory that ended the First World War (100 years), the Munich Agreement (80 years) and the Italian Armistice (75 years)—it is somewhat surprising that there has been little mention of the end of the Palestine Mandate and Britain’s withdrawal from that ancient land.
Seventy years ago, on 14 May 1948, the State of Israel came into being. For Israelis it is Yom Ha’atzmaut—Independence Day, a time of celebration, and for many Palestinians it is the Nakba—the catastrophe, a time of mourning.
Like the time since, the period of the Mandate was characterised by trouble and strife: inter-tribal fighting, the ‘Black Hand’ anti-Zionist and anti-British insurgency between 1930 and 1935, the Arab revolt from 1936 to 1939, the Second World War, and the Zionist insurgency from 1939 to 1948.
The pre-Second World War period brought Royal Signals some of its earliest awards for gallantry, the very first being a Military Cross to Lieutenant Bill Lloyd, a cable section commander in 3rd (Lahore) Divisional Signal Company. An officer of the The Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment) attached to the Indian Signal Corps, with which he had served during the Third Anglo-Afghan War, by the time of the publication of his award he had been seconded to Royal Signals. In the Second World War he would be made OBE for his bravery on the Dunkirk beaches. Amongst the awards made in the period of Arab revolt in the 1930s was a Military Medal to Signalman Peter Heaton serving as a wireless operator with 2nd Battalion, The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment. His citation describes his conduct as, ‘a magnificent example of bravery and coolness in action.’ It would be remiss not to mention former Royal Signals soldier Cyril Mott, who joined the Palestine Police and earned a British Empire Medal for his bravery in 1933 and added to it a posthumous King’s Police Medal for Gallantry when he was killed in an engagement with a gang of the Black Hand on 20 November 1935; it was the first posthumous award of the King’s Police Medal to the Palestine Police.
The period immediately after the Second World War saw a considerable increase in the rate and effectiveness of terrorist attacks by Jewish groups, primarily Irgun and the Stern Gang. To counter this, the British Army presence became a large one, as did that of Royal Signals—the Palestine Command Signal Regiment, two Divisional Signal Regiments and the units supporting their subordinate brigades, elements of No. 1 Line of Communication Signal Regiment and 4th Air Formation Signals, 2nd Air Support Signal Squadron, No. 2 Wireless Company, and individual reinforcements from across the Corps. Memories have faded as the veterans of these mid-20th century campaigns leave us. For most of us who served in the Corps during the latter part of the last century it is the terrorism of the ‘Troubles’ in Ulster that will be remembered. But Royal Signals lost more soldiers, and at a higher rate, to Jewish terrorism in the three years after the Second World War than were lost to terrorism during the whole of the Northern Ireland campaign.
Two hundred and twenty-eight British service personnel and policemen were reported killed between 1 January 1946 and 14 May 1948; the clear majority being killed by one of the Jewish militant groups. Many more died in accidents on duty or in non-operational circumstances. From the declaration of the state of emergency on 27 September 1945 until the withdrawal of British troops in June 1948, Royal Signals lost one officer and 23 soldiers to terrorist action (a very high casualty rate when compared to the 16 soldiers killed by terrorist action during the entire Northern Ireland campaign). A much larger number were wounded, some very seriously. In addition, one officer and 26 soldiers died of illness, in accidents and from other causes. The casualties are commemorated on the Royal Signals Roll of Honour and on the Armed Forces Memorial. Those who died prior to 31 December 1947 are commemorated also by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. But it is worth noting (as I have discovered with the pre-Second World War campaigns) that the records of commemoration are incomplete, and I hope to help address this by the time of the Corps’ centenary.
2366526 Warrant Officer Class II (Company Sergeant Major) Leonard Charles ADAMS, Headquarters Palestine Command, aged 29.
Captain Alexander David MACKINTOSH, 3 Squadron, Palestine Command Signal Regiment, aged 39.
The former was killed on 22 July 1946 in the explosion at the King David Hotel, Jerusalem; the latter died of wounds on 23 July having been shot by the terrorists who were planting the explosives. The blast claimed the lives of 91 people and injured 45. Six survivors were rescued from the rubble over the next few days by soldiers of 9th Airborne Squadron, Royal Engineers. (Both are buried in Ramleh War Cemetery in adjacent graves: Adams—Plot 7, Row J, Grave 18; Mackintosh—Plot 7, Row J, Grave 17.)
14970980 Signalman George Edward BOYES, 4th Air Formation Signal Regiment, aged 19
14574823 Signalman John HUNTER, 4th Air Formation Signal Regiment, aged 22
Killed on the morning of 2 December 1946 by a command wire-initiated explosive device concealed in a culvert while travelling to Jerusalem in a jeep with two soldiers from 2nd Airborne Forward Observation Unit, Royal Artillery, who were also killed. This was the first such attack in daylight by Jewish terrorists. (Buried in Ramleh War Cemetery in adjacent graves: Boyes—Plot 9, Row C, Grave 15; Hunter— Plot 9, Row C, Grave 14.)
14369780 Driver Walter STEVENSON, 1st Infantry Divisional Signal Regiment, aged 22
Killed on 3 December 1946 in a double explosion when travelling by Jeep near Hadera, south of Haifa. (Khayat Beach War Cemetery, Plot C, Row G, Grave 14.)
14415978 Signalman Harold Frederick LAWRANCE, No. 2 Wireless Company, aged 21
Killed on 5 December 1946 in an explosion in the camp at Sarafand. An officer of the Royal Army Medical Corps was also killed and eight staff officers, fifteen soldiers and five civilians were injured by the blast and flying debris. (Ramleh War Cemetery, Plot 9, Row C, Grave 19.)
14115135 Signalman Roland James COLE, 3 Squadron, 7th Headquarters Signal Regiment, aged 20
14164598 Signalman Cecil Stokes HUNTER, 3 Squadron, 7th Headquarters Signal Regiment, aged 23
14164599 Signalman Peter Henry Sydney HUTCHINSON, 3 Squadron, 7th Headquarters Signal Regiment, aged 21
14047529 Signalman Thomas WELLS, 3 Squadron, 7th Headquarters Signal Regiment, aged 19
Killed in an explosion on 22 April 1947 near Rehovot in the first attack on the Cairo-Haifa railway targeting British troops. A senior NCO of the Royal Artillery was also killed, as were two Arab railway staff and a child. (Buried in Ramleh War Cemetery in adjacent graves: Cole—Plot 9, Row G, Grave 7; Hunter—Plot 9, Row G, Grave 6; Hutchinson—Plot 9, Row G, Grave 8; and Wells—Plot 9, Row G, Grave 5.)
14964066 Driver Harold Joseph EDWARDS, 2 Squadron, Palestine Command Signal Regiment, aged 21
At 7.20 a.m. on the morning of 23 July, the vehicle in which he and two others were travelling on Forrest Street, Ahuza south of Haifa was attacked with a command-wire-initiated improvised explosive device. The vehicle was blown into a ditch at the side of the road. The three crewmen were taken to British Military Hospital, Haifa, where Edwards died later that day from a cerebral hemorrhage suffered in the explosion. (Khayat Beach War Cemetery, Plot D, Row F, Grave 5.)
19068810 Signalman Frank William George GATEHOUSE, attached to Palestine Command Signal Regiment, aged 21
14070956 Signalman Leonard Albert Lionel KING, attached to Palestine Command Signal Regiment, aged 22
Killed in an explosion 26 July 1947 while repairing cable near Motza on the Jerusalem-Jaffa Road, an attack specifically targeting the Royal Signals repair team. Eight other soldiers received minor injuries. (Buried in Ramleh War Cemetery in adjacent graves: Gatehouse—Plot 9, Row J, Grave 16; King—Plot 9, Row J, Grave 17.)
14130641 Corporal William Thomas ROBINSON, Cypher Section, No. 3 Squadron, Palestine Command Signal Regiment, aged 24
Died on 8 January 1948 of gunshot wounds received the previous day in Jerusalem; another soldier was wounded in the leg. (Ramleh War Cemetery, Plot 11, Row C, Grave 12.)
14972350 Driver Robert George ARNO, 1st Infantry Divisional Signal Regiment, aged 20
2026743 Sergeant John Patrick BUCKLEY, 6th Airborne Divisional Signal Regiment, aged 33
14178536 Signalman John MADDISON, Palestine Command Signal Regiment, aged 26
6342973 Sergeant Ronald William WARNETT, 6th Airborne Divisional Signal Regiment, aged 31
14052789 Signalman John Graham WRIGHT, 2nd Air Support Signal Squadron, aged 21
Killed on 29 February 1948, again near Rehovot, in an explosion on the Cairo-Haifa railway targeting British troops. Another 23 soldiers were killed and 33 were injured, many very seriously. This remains the largest loss of Royal Signals soldiers in a single terrorist attack since the formation of the Corps. (Buried in Ramleh War Cemetery: Arno—Plot 17, Row B, Grave 22; Buckley—Plot 17, Row B, Grave 1; Maddison—Plot 17, Row B, Grave 3; Warnett—Plot 17, Row B, Grave 17; and Wright—Plot 17, Row B, Grave 18.)
14123147 Driver Walter John FIELD, Palestine Command Signal Regiment, aged 23
Killed on 4 March 1948 when Arab gunmen ambushed military vehicles on the Ramallah-Latrun Road; another soldier was wounded. (Ramleh War Cemetery, Plot 17, Row, C, Grave 9.)
14062211 Signalman Joseph William RICH, 6th Airborne Divisional Signal Regiment, aged 20
Killed on 28 March 1948 by a sniper near Haifa. (Haifa War Cemetery, Plot F, Row E, Grave 12.)
14184987 Driver Douglas John ‘Jack’ FURSEMAN, 1st Infantry Divisional Signal Regiment, aged 19
14158034 Lance Corporal Kenneth HANDISIDES, 1st Infantry Divisional Signal Regiment, aged 20
14092824 Signalman Richard Henry PARKES, 1st Infantry Divisional Signal Regiment, aged 20
Killed on 20 April 1948 when a loud-speaker vehicle was ambushed near Jaffa. (Buried in Ramleh War Cemetery in adjacent graves: Furseman—Plot 17, Row D, Grave 22; Handisides—Plot 17, Row D, Grave 20; Parkes—Plot 17, Row D, Grave 21.)
And those who died of other causes:
1. (Back) House of Lords Debate. (9 June 1948). Hansard. Volume 156 cc528-9.
2. (Back) The total number of Armed Forces deaths in Palestine in the period 3 September 1945 to 30 June 1948 is recorded as 754. See: UK Armed Forces Deaths: Operational deaths post World War II dated 30 March 2017.
3. (Back) Those who died up to 31 December 1947 are considered casualties of the Second World War.
4. (Back) The soldiers wounded in the attack were 14099375 Signalman Vernon Higham (who lost the sight of one eye) and 14146875 Signalman Sidney Sharman (who was blinded in both eyes).