VACY VLAZNA. The Sarafand Massacre and Anzac Cover-up, Part 2

Cover-ups are a reprehensible part and parcel of military history and testimonies collected on Australian Military History of the Early  20th Century: Desert Column siteare tainted with fundamental lies and racist justifications that have become the prototype for subsequent historical and newspaper accounts of the Sarafand Massacre.

The Cover-up continued.

No New Zealanders, Australians or British soldiers participated in the massacre

The cover-up was intensified over the decades with a flurry of denials and cross accusations by the different ANZAC Division units. The Australians denied participation putting the blame squarely on the New Zealanders and British artillerymen from the Ayrshire Battery while the New Zealanders parried with counter accusations.

In accounts, the number participating in the mass murder varies from 50 to 200.

Irregardless, on 16 December, the entire division was paraded before General Allenby who addressed the members as  ‘cowards and murderers’ concluding with, “Officers, Non Commissioned Officers, and men of the Anzac Mounted Division I was proud of you once. I am proud of you no longer!”

The participation of all three national groups is confirmed by the compensation payments. In late 1920-1 the British War Office pressured Australia and NZ to pay compensation as the British government had rebuilt the village at a cost of 2060.11.3 pounds.  Australia contributed 515 pound and NZ, 858 pounds.

TV NZ’s ‘Sunday: Day of Shamedocumentary reveals that the cover-up extended to the family of murdered Leslie Lowry. His nephew, Noel Woods, believed his uncle was ‘mown down in a hail of Turkish bullets’ and was deeply shocked by news of the massacre.

Blaming the victims

HS Gullett, the official war correspondent in Palestine, puts the ‘unfortunate incident’  that demanded ‘instant justice’ in the context of the exasperation of the AIF heroes with the unpunished thefts by ‘these debased people’ – ‘The natives of Surafend were notorious for their petty thieving’ coupled with the murder of a comrade ‘at the hands of a race they despised’. Regarding the Bedouin,Ted O’Brien remarked, “wicked…You’d shoot them on sight.”

Gullett’s overt racist superiority, like that of a majority of  WWI Australian soldiers hailing from the land of White Australia, dismisses outright the plight of Palestinians struggling to survive the dire economic impact on their land and livelihoods of the mounted armies of the Imperial and Ottoman forces. The Turks had demolished orchards and the cavalries ‘drank out wells and grazed their horses on standing crops’. Palestinians were driven to steal because foodstuffs, livestock and even unwilling Palestinian staff were requisitioned by the military and consequently there was a shortage of basic food and commodities and awful disruptions to daily life.

Blithely, Gullett makes a reference to instances of theft by the Anzacs, ‘if the Arabs missed a sheep from their flocks, they were emphatic that a soldier in a big hat had been seen prowling in the neighbourhood.’ Stealing sheep may have been a lark for the soldiers, but it was devastating for impoverished Palestinian farmers.

The Arabs were also accused of desecrating and stealing from the dead, yet Ted O’ Brien ‘talks in detail how he and his mates stole coins from the dead. They also  used the Turkish dead for target practice’ (Daley p275). The AIF regularly conducted punitive patrols against villages and troops were known to leave behind booby traps of bully beef tins when they moved bivouac.

Al Nakba

Sarafand al Kharab suffered a second calamity on April 20, 1948 when Israeli Givati Forces demolished  the village and ethnically cleansed its Palestinian inhabitants.


Collective punishment and mistreatment of civilians

The Sarafand Massacre wasn’t a one-off aberration. The Anzacs were notorious for inflicting harassment and collective punishment on Egyptian and Palestinian civilians. In her searingly honest book, Australians and Egypt, 1914-1919, Dr Suzanne Brugger chronicles 4 incidents at Azizia,  Bedrashein, Abu Akdar and Saft El-Malouk in which the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) in 1919 were involved in destroying Egyptian villages by fire with the incurring of casualties through excessive force.

A letter in the Egyptian Gazette in 1918 complained,‘Insobriety and misconduct by the troops threatened to undermine the prestige of the white races and of the Allied forces and dominant British regime in particular.’ (Brugger p61)

Misconduct ranged from misdemeanours to brutal violence: “Men of the Eight Brigade on a route march near Tel el Kebir sniped at passing “gypos’ until their targets fled over the skyline, Egyptian conductors were thrown from moving trains, and Egyptian stationmasters and minor officials were assaulted. The British soldiers  are a sedate lot in comparison with ours, boasted a Victorian private, “they don’t knock the baskets of oranges off the heads of the natives, or pull boys off donkeys..” (Bill Gammage The Broken Years, p138) other misconduct included-  leaving without paying at brothels, not paying fares on trams, looting and burning trading booths,‘drunkedness, riotous behaviour and brothel-trawling’, foul language, cruel and crude jokes, ‘crumbling discipline’.

The accumulative offences were so grave that Brugger declares, ‘the actions of the Australian troops in the past 5 years [1914-19] had contributed in part to this raising of the temper of the populace’ for emerging Egyptian nationalism and the 1919 rebellion.

Ted O’Brien described the Sarafand Massacre as ‘ungodly’ and avowed “war is a shocking thing…It’s shocking just what men’ll do”. Perhaps PTSD arises not just from the horror of war and its stressful proximity to death, but also from the horror at the inner potential for inhuman barbarity.

Sometimes, a cover-up wreaks greater violence than the original crime. The glorification and sanitisation of war is a form of cover-up that leads to further wars as WWI combatant and poet, Siegfried Sassoon warned;


I saw the Prince of Darkness, with his Staff,
Standing bare-headed by the Cenotaph:
Unostentatious and respectful, there
He stood, and offered up the following prayer.
“Make them forget, O Lord, what this Memorial
Means; their discredited ideas revive;
Breed new belief that War is purgatorial
Proof of the pride and power of being alive;
Men’s biologic urge to readjust
The Map of Europe, Lord of Hosts, increase;
Lift up their hearts in large destructive lust;
And crown their heads with blind vindictive Peace.”








Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001.

First published inPalestine ChronicleDec 7, 2012


This post kindly provided to us by one of our many occasional contributors.

This entry was posted in Defence/Security, World Affairs. Bookmark the permalink.

For questions regarding our comment system please click here.
(Please note that we are unable to post comments on your behalf.)

5 Responses to VACY VLAZNA. The Sarafand Massacre and Anzac Cover-up, Part 2

  1. Avatar Jim Kable says:

    in the same way….

  2. Avatar JimKABLE says:

    What can I say but sincere thanks to Dr VLAZNA for this timely reminder in the haze of Brendon Nelson self-promotion and his jingoistic glorification of war – aided and abetted by John HOWARD and the rah! rah! LNP team that yes – Australians as a component of ANZACS during the Middle East theatre of the war – and in parts of the Pacific theatre war and post-war era – could and did engage in unseemly and unheroic behaviour – sure – not all – but some – enough – to bring shame to those who care about ethical behaviour by their nation’s troops. We do have to remember that massacres of Indigenous peoples were taking place into the 1920s – that the nation-building Downer Family of South Australia had been engaged in such atrocities in far northern Australia in fairly contiguous times too – that the colonial era was very much with us through the Great War – and that the same kinds of attitudes re the Sarafand Massacre victims drives the present policies against asylum-seekers locked away in dreadful circumstances on Manus and Nauru – driven by the on-waters-matters so-called Christian PM Morrison. As Primo LEVI in a follow-up to his memoir of surviving Auschwitz wrote in later years: “In every part of the world, wherever you begin by denying the fundamental liberties of mankind, and equality among people, you move towards the concentration camp system, and it is a road on which it is difficult to halt.” Well, we have those concentration camps already – the two places I just named – and then all the detention camps within Australia – the various constricted visas governing the lives of asylum-seekers permitted to exist in the community – not unlike for those people having to wear stars of various colours as decreed by the NAZIS in their early days of separating and tagging – and for Indigenous Australians – Don Dale and just about every other juvenile “justice” gaol and adult prison in Australia. It’s beyond time to turf out any government which does these kinds of things to its people. Time for Australia to stand up to past military injustices and pay proper compensation and apology to restore dignity and the respect due. I write this from Prague – just a week or so after visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau in neighbouring Poland.

  3. Avatar Kien Choong says:

    On the claim that Israeli forces “demolished the village and ethnically cleansed its Palestinian inhabitants”, what is the view of historians who are neither Israeli or Palestinian? As I understand it, this controversial claim is disputed by Israel.

    • Avatar Vacy Vlazna says:

      Of course Israel disputes the ethnic cleansing of Palestine facts- denial by the occupier is a cover-up. You can read israeli historian Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, and or Tom Suarez’ State of Terror and examine the data of ethnic cleansing on Palestine Remembered,

    • Avatar Jim Kable says:

      I am an hisorian, Kien. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian – but given the injustices of colonisers such as the Zionists who moved to Palestine from the latter 19th century with reasonable hopes of settling in the land of their long-ago religiously-calibrated ancestry – then overwhelmed by the anger of the survivors of the European Nazi Shoah/Holocaust – at least those who were assisted in their move to Palestine – and their takeover of that Arab/Islamic land – I should say that there is adequate understanding to dispute your contention that the disputing from Israeli sources counts for anything at all. That coloniser/invader society continues to enslave, gaol, steal land, deny rights to the Palestinian people from whom they have denied all rights – arresting their children, some of whom die in the Israeli gaols – let alone the theft continuing of Palestinian land, demolition of homes and farms under spurious Kafkaesque Catch 22 “laws” and general dehumanisation of Palestinians in the sane way the Nazis did to Jews, Roma, communists, trade unionists, human beings of difference! Read a little please.

Comments are closed.