Attack on the Syrian Orphanage (Schneller Camp), 12th March 1947

"The 12th March, 1947, will long be remembered as the blackest day in the history of the 90 Battalion, Royal Army Pay Corps, for it was in the early hours of that day that personnel peacefully sleeping in their quarters in the Syrian Orphanage were the victims of a cowardly attack by Jewish Terrorists. It will be of interest not only to those who were the victims of this cowardly outrage but to the many thousands of RAPC personnel whose billet has at one time or another been in the Syrian Orphanage during the war years to place on record some details of what took place during this dastardly attack.

The terrorists, who had for some time been carrying out an extensive programme of murder and destruction throughout Palestine, selected the Camp at the Syrian Orphanage which houses the 90 Battalion Royal Army Pay Corps (and whose members work side by side with Jews during office hours) as the object fo a 'hit and run' attack.

The Jews approached the Western perimeter wall under cover of darkness behind 'A' Block (for the information of those who know Schneller well) just before dawn and proceeded to blast through the twelve-foot wall. This initial explosion rocked every building in the vast Orphanage. Through the breach thus made in the wall, the attackers, supported by small arms fire from nearby vantage points, entered the grounds and placed one sack (approximate weight 50 lb) of gelignite with a minute fuse in the passage way at the rear of the building in which some 80 NCOs and men of the Corps were sleeping. During the period of this assault a diversionary attack was made on the Main Guard with small arms fire and by grenades thrown on to the road.

The shattering explosion of the gelignite, the blast of which threw many of the boys from their beds, was followed by the sickening sound of falling masonry as a large part of the interior of the building collapsed, burying the occupants beneath the dust and debris. Many were injured and one man succumbed to his injuries almost immediately.

It is perhaps some little consolation that only one of the charges intended for the building exploded. Two further sacks of the same weight containing gelignite were afterwards found abandoned at the back of the building, neither detonated nor placed in position. It is probable that the reason for these charges being abandoned was the timely intervention of Pte Manning, later one of the seriously injured, who in accordance with his normal practice had his Sten Gun at the 'ready' by his bed and who, after being awakened by the first explosion rushed to the window and fired at the Jews through the gap in the wall.

In the grey light of morning, almost before the clouds of dust from the explosion had settled, rescue squads were at work, many forgetting their own personal injuries, in an effort to release those of their comrades who were trapped by the falling debris and attanding to those who were injured. The scene by this time resembled a battle-field with its stream of stretcher and walking casualties making for the MI Room where after treatment the seriously injured were rushed to hospital. Our thanks go out to the Medical Officer, Captain Donnelly, RAMC, and his small staff who worked heroically during this period.

It was a strange feeling to be standing some time later, looking at the ruins of 'A' Block while several soldiers searched among the debris for a trace of their lost possessions and others swathed in bandages and covered from head to foot in dust and grime stood by.

It was all the more strange when one recalled how peaceful the Jews in Palestine had become at a time when the German hordes were at El Alamein and the British Soldier was all that stood between Palestine and slavery.

All the Unit personnel showed the utmost courage and fortitude at this time and their thoughts and questions were only of those of their comrades whom they knew to be hurt more than themselves. It speaks well for the discipline and training of these British soldiers of the RAPC who despite their feelings of anger and disgust at the outrage did suffer the Jewish Clerks to continue working beside them in the office, not knowing to what extent some of them might have been involved in the planning and perpetration of this dastardly outrage against the soldiers who protect and pay them.

We all deeply regret the loss of Pte Harold Edward France who was killed in this cowardly outrage. He was not unlike any of those soldiers who gave their lives for freedom and set free the Jews from Concentration Camps in Europe, and yet he now lies dead, murdered by Jews, leaving a widow and two children. A more likeable frellow could not have been found anywhere in the camp. I don't think he would ever have harmed anyone intentionally, yet he paid the supreme sacrifice for something in which he had neither part nor interest. To Mrs France and family we all extend our sincere hearfelt sympathy in their great bereavement.

The following were wounded by the explosions: Pte A Bedding, Pte HE Buttivant, Pte CJ Crowther, Pte JA Kilshaw, Pte P Manning, Pte A Parr, Pte R Smith, Pte F Sydes, Cpl JR Whitham; all were hospitalized. The following were also wounded: L/Cpl Alder, Pte Barnes, Pte Bassett, S/Sgt Brigden, L/Cpl Chadwick, Pte Cheeseman, Pte Devey, S/Sgt Durose, Pte Ingleby, Pte Moon, Pte. Russell, Sgt Russell, Sgt Shooler, Pte Wardrope, Sgt Watters."

Royal Army Pay Corps Journal, Summer 1947, lent by Harry Devey.