THE OXFORDSHIRE AND BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY
2ND BATTALION (52ND) PALESTINE 1945 – 1947
“It was a campaign during which the last few groups of wartime national servicemen of all ranks and their successors, who joined after VJ Day, bore the brunt of the workload and of any dangers that were involved.” Colonel P.E. Gerahty CBE
PALESTINE IN 1945
Under a League of Nations mandate in 1922 Palestine, Transjordan and Mesopotamia were placed under British Administration. The British Government had already pledged that one day part of Palestine would become a “Jewish Homeland”. This was not an easy pledge to honour, with a number of clashes breaking out between the Arabs and Jews, especially once Jewish immigration to Palestine increased considerably after 1933, culminating in the 1936-39 Arab revolt. By late summer in 1945, internal troubles in Palestine between the Arabs and the growing Jewish population were brewing again. The post-war situation of some 250,000 displaced Jews, many of whom wanted to enter the ‘Jewish homeland’, aggravated the problem.
Funeral for 6 British Paratroopers Killed by Jewish Insurgents
Jewish terrorist groups were responsible for repeated terrorist incidents and attacks on the Palestine Police, British Army and British Dependants as well as massacres of Palestinian villagers to free up land for settlement. The major Jewish terrorist groups were Haganah and Irgun, both of whom formed prior to the Second World War, and Lehi, also known as the Stern Gang which formed in 1940. In total 784 British men, women, soldiers and civilians were killed between the years 1945 and 1948 in an attempt to bring peace and stability to Palestine.
ARRIVAL OF THE 2ND BATTALION (52ND) – OCTOBER 1945
The 2nd Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (52nd) arrived in Palestine in late October 1945. The Battalion had a relatively small number of pre-war regulars in its ranks with the majority being either conscripts from the last two years of the Second World War and National Servicemen. The Battalion had been preparing for an assault on Japan when they first received orders to head to Palestine.
On 31st October, just after the Battalion had arrived in Palestine, the Jewish terrorist offensive against British rule began with a wave of bomb attacks on police vehicles, railway sites and Haifa oil refinery.
52nd on Patrol in Jerusalem
2ND BATTALION (52ND) DURING 1946
For several months the Battalion was based at ‘Camp 22’ in Nathanya near Haifa as part of 6 Air Landing Brigade. They were required to maintain road blacks and to carry out searches of vehicles and settlements. In April they transferred to Alamein Camp in Jerusalem as part of the 31st Independent Infantry Brigade. This period was entirely devoted to internal security and guard duty. On July 27th Corporal Cranwell from C Company was shot and died five days later, the only fatality during the Battalion’s entire stay in Palestine.
From November the Battalion relocated north to Haifa at ‘Athlit Camp’, changing brigade again to the 3rd Infantry Brigade within 1 British Infantry Division.
‘It is a relief to be out of Jerusalem, as duties were very heavy and involved up to 300 men a day.’
Brigade Convoy Heading to Jerusalem
King David Wing Photograph Taken by Major G. P. M. Clift
KING DAVID HOTEL BOMBING
The southern wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem was used as the British administrative HQ in Palestine. On 21st July 1946 the terrorist group Irgun blew up the southern wing, resulting in over ninety fatalities and over forty other casualties. D Company of the 52nd was used to enforce the subsequent curfew.
Major Clift was on his way to the King David Wing for a meeting but was delayed by several minutes after someone wanted a lift in his jeep. Without this he would have been in the wing during the explosion.
On Exercise in the Transjordan
Training Alongside the Trans-Jordanian Frontier Force
On 24th November the Battalion moved to the Transjordan for a month of training. The training proved successful despite a break of nearly a year since the Battalion had last done any.
‘The camp was a beautiful sandy site in a Wadi and the only permanent structure was the Sign Board.’
Training was carried out at company, brigade and divisional level. The 52nd played the leading role in the final exercise of Divisional Training, commanding a combined force of a tank squadron, an armoured car squadron and four regiments of artillery.
‘We made a formidable force.’
2ND BATTALION (52ND) DURING 1947
On 23rd April the 2nd Battalion sustained more casualties when an escort truck was blown up by a mine and the occupants came under close range fire from terrorists armed with automatic weapons.
‘Fortunately the mine was detonated too early and the ‘Thugs’ aim was bad, so the three soldiers in the truck were only slightly wounded and re-joined the Regiment a few days later.’
From May the Battalion was back in Jerusalem, with responsibility for two camps as well as the defence of two of the four Security Zones in the city within which the British inhabitants had moved to. B and C companies were in the Hospice de la Notre Dame in Zone C. D and S companies were in RAPC Camp at the Syrian Orphanage in ‘D’ Zone.
‘No terrorist attack on ‘C’ Zone did materialise and we feel this may in part have been due to our strict but just treatment of all civilians.’
July saw an ever increasing battle against terrorists in the city with three or four incidents every twenty four hours, particularly at night, which required the whole battalion to stand to at ‘Action Stations’. One of the most popular tasks was to be part of ‘Lightning Platoon’, a mobile force on standby ready to react to any incident.
‘Men were always very keen on this duty and great dash and enthusiasm was shown.’
END OF 2ND BATTALION (52ND) IN 1947
19th March – Battalion is officially told that it would be going into suspended animation.
1st August – Commitments in Jerusalem handed over to 1st Battalion Irish Guards. The 2nd Battalion becomes non-operational.
16th August – Battalion down to twenty Officers and 290 other ranks after many were reallocated to new regiments in Greece and Cyprus.
22nd August – Departure from Palestine by train for Suez.
3rd September – The remainder of the Battalion embarked for England, totalling six Officers, two Warrant-Officers and eighty eight other ranks.
‘When we left we had the doubtful honour of being the infantry battalion with the longest record of continuous service in that unhappy country.’
12th September – the 2nd Battalion arrived in Liverpool and disembarked two days later.
15th November – the Battalion flag was lowered at Cowley Barracks in Oxford and the battalion is reduce to a token cadre of one Officer, one Warrant- Officer and two Non-commissioned Officers.
The Second Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry was amalgamated into the First to create a single battalion regiment.
‘A Regiment unsurpassed in Arms since Arms were borne by Man.’
The Palestine Medal was awarded as a clasp on the General Service Medal for service between 27th September 1945 and 30th June 1948.
These medals were awarded to Lieutenant Colonel H. J. C. Ducat-Hamesley, C.O of No.43 Primary Training Centre. They include a General Service Medal (GSM) with the Palestine Clasp.
Left to Right: Indian General Service Medal with Burma 1930-32 clasp, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Defence Medal, War Medal, GSM with Palestine Clasp.
All the photographs and information presented in this exhibition came from the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum’s archive and library and the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicles.