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A Matter of Pride

"Twenty eight years of service on behalf of two ungrateful communities gave the Palestine Police Force many decorations and awards. The exact number is not certain as a matter of fact, but the true number is thought to be in excess of 450. The name and citation of every Kings Police Medallist is known for instance and there were sixty-five of these - twenty nine of them for gallantry. There are 206 Colonial Police Medallists and sixty-three received their award for gallantry. At this stage it is interesting to note that when the force stood down in 1948 there were but 462 CPMs awarded through the world, and the Palestine Police Force had just over half of them. As this particular award was not instituted until 1938 it is a matter of pride that the old force picked up the lion's share in only ten years. The force also had the distinction of having the very first recipient of one of its members winning the CPM twice (CPM and Bar), both citations were for gallantry. But to continue. The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire - CBE, OBE, MBE and the Medal of the Order, BEM, has been the most difficult to research. Four CBEs were awarded, the number of OBE and MBE awards is simply not known at the moment but looks to be not less than fifteen and thirty five, respectively. Some fifty BEM awards have been traced and it is known that there are many more. Four CMGs were awarded to high ranking officers and we have our single George Medallist on record. At the more mundane end of the list, some seventeen foreign decorations have been awarded to members of the force up to 1939 but there is no record of how many arrived with the rations during the war years.

But I wish to dwell upon certain other awards that were well earned but received little publicity. There is a danger that the events may be forgotten and the modesty of the recipients cause them to go unrecognised. To lead into this subject gradually it is first necessary to remind readers that the force enjoyed at least five Kings Commendations for Brave Conduct (Oak Leaves) for its members and we know of at least three Mentions in Dispatches. It is believed that there were others. There is one award for bravery given by the Protection of Life Against Fire Society (well earned by 2nd B/Sergeant AJ Docherty in the wireless section). On a gentler note The Most Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem decorated its Commanders of the Order, Officers of the Order and Serving Brothers of the Order who served within the force and here some twenty decorations have been traced. Not to leave out the Silver Medal of the Order awarded to the inimitable British Corporal Sindbad Edward Arthur (Archie) Pitt, who received his award in 1934 for keeping his head and saving life by intelligent use of his first aid training.

Having cleared the decks of some of the lesser known and less appreciated awards, I can at last turn to the main theme of this article. There is one group of awards that earned for the Palestine Police eleven citations for bravery. I refer to those hard to get awards issued by The Royal Humane Society whose recipients form a distinguished pantheon in their own right. The first of such awards was the Society's Testimonial on Vellum which was granted posthumously because the officer lost his life while trying to save that of a comrade. I refer to British Reserve Inspector (later changed to Assistant Commandant of Police, which was later still changed to Assistant Superintendent of Police, Captain JW Mackenzie who was then in charge of Nazareth and who lost his life on 15th April 1922 when he jumped into the fast flowing Jordan river near Beisan in an attempt to save the life of his colleague and friend, Inspector Ibrahim Oweida, who had been thrown into the river from his horse which took fright while drinking at the river bank. In a desperate struggle in the water, both men were drowned. Apart from the Society's recognition of bravery, those members who care to explore the inner beauty of St George's Cathedral in Jerusalem will see a large marble plaque in memory of Mackenzie. This selfless act made a great impression upon the Palestinians who said among themselves, "These 'Inglezi' are prepared to give their lives for us" and from that moment British Officers could lead them anywhere.

Saving life from what could be a watery grave made up the bulk of the society's awards. On 28th May, 1944, British Constable Stanley Metcalf entered the sea of Bat Yam beach, Jaffa, to assist two British comrades in difficulties. The citation points out that there were heavy seas, dangerous currents and a strong offshore wind blowing, which readers will recall is not so uncommon off Jaffa, a place where in 1798 it is recorded, one in seven pilgrims lost their lives while trying to get ashore on the way to Jerusalem. But the gallant Metcalf swam to assist one comrade, while an Arab beach life guard went to the aid of the other.

But then metcalf got into difficulties too, so that after the life guard had rescued one man, he swam out to get the second, and then out again to bring in Metcalf who by then was in a very bad state. His award of the society's Bronze Medal for bravery was well earned that day and the force was very proud of him. Supernumerary Corporal Zeo Zilberman earned a Testimonial on Vellum for very brave conduct when rescuing an RAF driver from the Kishon river on 10th February, 1939, while another Palestinian, Police Constable 1427 Hassan el Masri, showed extraordinary courage and persistence in endeavour on 14th May, 1934, at the time of the Tiberius floods, when a wall of water rushed down the hill and swept through the town in an effort to escape into the Sea of Galilee. Flooding rose to six feet in no time at all and a man was swept away towards the sea making helpless struggles to survive. Without hesitation the young Hassan leaped fully clothed into the water in an effort to save the unfortunate victim. He managed to grasp clothing but the rush of water separated him again and he was then obliged to save his own life by clinging to a telegraph pole. Happily the man was rescued over 350 yards away and Hassan earned himself a medal. It turned out that he was not a very good swimmer and the Inspector General was doubly proud of him.

On 11th April, 1938, British Constable Alistair G Turnbull (whose obituary notice was sadly printed in these newsletters, issues 104 and 105) and Thomas Charles, both earned Bronze Medals for bravery. A small sailing vessel had capsized in dangerous waters off Jaffa (again), and the Arab crew of three were thrown into the sea in thirty feet of water and some 250 yards from the shore. Death was a certainty for them, until the two young officers took a hand and jumped in to try and rescue the unfortunate crew. Two were brought ashore after much difficulty and then they returned for the third. A more unusual episode occurred on 4th February, 1935, when a train was derailed by flooding near Tulkarm. A gang of railwaymen had been sent to repair the damage when a sudden flood of water marooned four of them on a wagon which was washed some 100 yards from the embankment. but fate had arranged for ASP Cecil Tesseyman and British Corporal Kenneth Handingham to be on hand. Yes, you know them both very well. They were able to secure ropes and crawl along until opposite the marooned wagon, where eventually all four were rescued from water which measured at forty feet in depth and still rising. They both received the Society's Bronze Medal for bravery.

On 19th June, 1938, two young girls were bathing off Gaza and when found to be in difficulties were rescued by British Constable John Thomson who earned for himself the Society's Testimonial on Vellum. Then on 8th November, 1935, a terrible flood occurred at Khalisa after a cloudburst. Water forced boulders, found later to weigh between four and five tons, about the place like ping pong balls. A house was crushed under the weight of water and its owner as well as his daughter were trapped inside. True to the traditions of a great police force, Constable Nicola Karem forced his way through the rush of water at very great risk to his own life, and managed to enter the wreckage and bring out the owner and his child. The Society awarded him its Bronze Medal for bravery.

All this tots up to eleven awards, if we include one given to that great friend of the Palestine Police in later years, Captain LK Lockhart of the Palestine Gendarmerie who divine providence placed in the vicinity of a woman in difficulty in the sea off - guess where? Jaffa, of course. The most dangerous coast in the eastern Mediterranean. Lockhart managed to get the lady out of the water after a struggle. She was Uada Bewsher, wife of his Commanding Officer. Each of these awards recognises extreme acts of personal bravery and unflagging determination and purpose for duty to be done. Each endeared the police force to the citizens it was trying to serve long enough to make a break from all the Arab and Jewish wailing and lamentation at this or that, while the police remained in the middle to take blows from both sides. I have often wondered, as no doubt we all have, whether any other police force could have done it all. The awards of the Royal Humane Society stand out from other awards in that they have no association with the crown, beyond the fact that their Patron is a member of the Royal Family. The society was instituted in 1774 and it recognises acts of gallantry in saving life in the former British Empire and now in the British Commonwealth of Nations. The awards to the Palestine Police 1920-1948, are locked away in its archives for evermore as a silent testimonial that we once existed. If ever we need one in an association whose members are convinced that we shall live in spirit for evermore."

'Onbashi' Palestine Police Old Comrades Association News Letter No.118, March 1980.