Attack on the Syrian Orphanage

12th March 1948, and life in Jerusalem afterwards

At about four o'clock one morning in March the terrorists attacked 'A' Block in which I was sleeping, first by blowing a gap in our perimeter defences and detonating a large quantity of gelignite within the Block itself. Fortunately the very brave action of a Private Manning, who, without thought for himself, kept up a steady fire at the attackers with his sten gun which enabled most of us to escape. He also prevented a further large bomb, which had already been placed, from being detonated. Had this gone off, the casualties would have been very great. We already had one man killed and about fifteen wounded, some quite seriously. I had the main door blown on top of me which certainly saved me.

The attackers were driven off and we went back to help the wounded and to search for survivors. One man was dug out with our bare hands. The driving force was a Sgt Boyd who drove us on to keep digging. Up until that time he had been one of our pet hates, but no longer. The morale of the men was magnificent; no panic, just a will to help. Most of them were only 18 or 19. Although I lost nearly all my kit, I held on to my rifle and 50 rounds throughout. The army must have taught me something. I had sustained some damage to my feet and legs but considered myself lucky, even though I was still on guard that night. The MO was still digging glass out of my feet weeks after.

Things generally did not improve, although we did now have an entertainment officer, a Captain Kirby, who was a great morale booster, and at times we were allowed into Jerusalem but only in threes, fully armed and with a round up the spout. At this time, we were ordered to have our arms with us, even for meals, but as it was rather difficult to eat at a table littered with rifles and sten guns, some of us tended to hang our rifles within our great coats back at the billet until the lack of arms was noticed by some keen-eyed orderly sergeant and a mad dash was made to retrieve them. During the evening meal the password and countersign were read out and for me it was always a matter of no little concern knowing that at any time within the garrison in the blackness one could be challenged by someone with orders to shoot to kill if no correct password was forthcoming. What if I had forgotten the password?

Source: written account by Harry Devey, May 2001