Attack on the Syrian Orphanage
Eyewitness account of Private Edward Worley of the attack by the I.Z.L. (Igrun Zveie Leumi) on the Syrian Orphanage, Schneller, Jerusalem. The barracks of the 90th Battalion, Royal Army Pay Corps.
Schneller Camp was originally an orphanage for blind Arab children. It had a main block consisting of a cobbled courtyard surrounded by heavy stone rooms. There were other buildings in the camp namely on the west side near the perimeter fence. This was another stone building of two wings built of big stone blocks housing pay corps clerks who worked in various wooden huts this and building was known as 'A' block. These huts were scattered around the camp and consisted of different sections. The clerks were assisted by civilian clerks made up from the local population.
In the early hours of the morning of 12th March 1947 I was asleep in an upper room at the rear of the north wing of 'A' block. There were six of us in the room and our first indication of trouble was a huge explosion. This was followed by a light outside so I realized the perimeter wall had been breached and that the trip flare had been activated.
In the confusion that followed I grabbed my trousers and was pulling them on when shots rang out from below us. (We discovered that a Pte. Manning had fired his Sten gun out of the window below us).
There followed an enormous explosion that seemed to come from the south wing of the block.
Another soldier Pte. Dave Fowkes, and I came down the stairs and out to the rear of 'A' block tripping over what seemed to be a sack of substance. The wall had been breached and a Bren gun was firing up the track outside the perimeter wall. Someone was ordering us to fall in on the front of 'A' block (south side). This we did and a headcount told us that Private Harold Edward France had been killed in the attack and nine men had been seriously injured and were taken to Sarafand Military Hospital. We spent the rest of the early morning in the security of the main block and left the infantry guarding the camp to sort out the I.Z.L.
The attack ,which came without warning, was timed when any doctor will tell you the human body is most at rest. Between 0200 - 0300 hours).
The next day we were told to enter our part of 'A' block after the Bomb Disposal Squad had completed their work.
It appears that the sacking that Dave Fowkes and I tripped over contained over 100lbs of gelignite but because Pte. Manning fired his gun the I.Z.L. failed to detonate it. So I guess all of us in the north wing of 'A' block owe our lives to Pte. Manning and that the building was so strongly built.
We rescued all our kit and we marched to the northeast part of the camp and were located in wooden huts; Dave Fowkes and I were in hut seventeen.
The injured soldiers were:
- Cpl. J. R. Whitham
- Pte. C. J. Crowther
- Pte. F. Sydes
- Pte. P. Manning
- Pte. A. Parr
- Pte. H. E. Buttivant
- Pte. A. Bedding
- Pte. J. A. Kilshaw
- Pte. R. Smith
Several other men were superficially wounded but only nine were taken to hospital at Sarafand.
All civilians working at the Syrian Orphanage had their contracts terminated on the 12th March 1947 and none ever worked for the military again at this location.
The I.Z.L. admitted that they were responsible for the attack on the Syrian Orphanage (The building known as Schneller Barracks) Regimental Paymaster Middle East and home of 90 Battalion, Royal Army Pay Corps. The leader of the I.Z.L. at this time was a man called Menachim Begin and this man was made Prime Minister of Israel in 1977.
I visited Israel with my wife in 1979 and we went to the Hall of Heroes. Menachim Begin was featured along with a list of all the attacks made on the British Military during the period of the partition of Palestine. The entry for 12th March 1947 read: The Orphanage was attacked by the I.Z.L. and destroyed... My wife and I walked to the Schneller Barracks and they were both being used - by the Israeli Army.