Terrorist Attack on Train at Binyamina - 17th April 1948

"On 16th April I was once again 2/ic of a train escort from Haifa to Lydda. We arrived at Haifa station only to find that, because of a curfew, we were too late to go to the transit camp. The only logical place to sleep was the small NAAFI hut on the platform. I asked the Warrant Officer in charge if we should mount a guard but was told that this would not be necessary. The Arab NAAFI staff made us a brew using our rations. Overhead we heard a lone plane and in the distance loud explosions erupted. I was detailed to sleep across the door of the hut which opened inwards. On waking we found that thieves had gained access to the hut, probably Arabs, and stolen some of our weapons, a Bren-gun with a box of magazines, two rifles and some more ammunition, leaving two men without arms.

We waited on the station until the arrival of a Lieutenant and another escort before boarding the train we were due to take out. The WO and I were placed in the middle of the train. On reflection, and in view of what later transpired, I feel that I was lucky, as normally I would have been riding on the engine.

We were nevertheless dismayed to find that our carriage, a covered goods wagon, had no reinforcing, which usually consisted of railway sleepers across the double doorway allowing two men, on both sides, firing positions. On the left side, facing the engine, the WO stood leaning against the door. I and two others sat with our legs outside (looking back, we were quite silly) getting a little air.

With having the frights at Haifa, and with the WO's permission, we loaded our weapons and put one up the 'spout'. this was strictly against orders but it was our decision at the time.

The journey continued uneventfully until, as we approached binyamina an explosion an explosion at the front of the train blew us off balance. At the same moment a man ran toward us from an orange grove with what I took to be a hand grenade ready to throw at us. I shot him as he raised his arm and saw him stagger back into the trees. Almost at the same time another huge bang knocked us to the floor of the wagon.

It takes a bit of time to describe everything; it all happened at once. We discovered later that the second explosion had blown out the floor of the next wagon. This worked in our favour as a heavy machine gun then started to rip the side of the wagon. The train was at a slight angle which gave us a little room to lay on the floor on the far side, covered in splinters and getting the feeling that nobody like us. Then one of our group said, 'I can see the man firing the machine gun'. My response was, 'Then shoot the bastard!' which he then did. His main concern then was, 'You saw that, Bombadier. I should get my third star when we get back to camp'.

We jumped from the train on the 'safe side' and had a head count. The WO and one other were missing. We continued firing at the trees to discourage the enemy. At this point our bren-gunner said that his gun was jammed with sand. This must have happened when he threw his weapon out prior to jumping out himself.

I had a 'confab' with the rest and we decided to hold on as long as possible for relief. The two unarmed men were told to get away as best they could Two more were place behind us in trees on a slight rise to get a better view.

A short time later the officer i/c the escort appeared them the rear of the train and ordered us to surrender, as the enemy had threatened to shoot those they had taken prisoner. At this time only our squad was giving any opposition.

Our decision to stay put was influenced by the previous week's report that Irgun had shot six men of the 12th Anti-Tank Regiment out of hand.

As we discussed the situation with the Lieutenant, voices were heard from the trees shouting to give ourselves up. One of my men immediately shot at the sound. All went quiet for a while. Then a commotion from the front of the train was heard. We got into position to fire back, when our own troops from the front escort appeared with their hands in the air and guns in their backs.

It was a very bitter moment to have to 'pack it in' under the circumstances. We were then herded into the trees at the rear of the train and sat for a long time in a group with loaded machine guns pointing at us. (I have thought since the barrels looked quite big!)

I was attending a wounded man, who I believe was a Sapper of the Royal Engineers (the train driver). I asked for medical equipment and was escorted to the guard's van to get it. This was about 100 yards down the track from where were were being held. When I returned I found the man had died.

We were then ordered to help unload the ammunition train. I tried arguing but, given the ultimatum, I had no choice. We started working very slowly and during a break we were given oranges by our captors. It did not seem long before firing broke out as troops arrived to rescue us. Everyone was apprehensive, as we were shown where to wait.

Before our rescuers arrived on the scene the Irgun drove off with their loaded wagons full of ammunition. We retrieved the arms hidden by our two men in the trees, before being transported to Camp 21 and then back to our unit at Sarafand, where I saw the WO for the first time since the first explosion.

This is what I remember of the indident, but of course there was other members of the escort, at the front and rear of the train, who also did their best under the circumstances."

Epitaph for an Army of Peacekeepers, George Webb