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April 28, 2008 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Anzac Biscuits, Baked in Blood

Today the National Library sent me a press release promoting their Anzac Day events: “On Anzac Day this week, we commemorate all New Zealanders and Australians who have served in a military campaign. ” I’m not going to accuse Anzac Day of being pro-war: it is always tinged with sadness, and focuses upon the tragedy of loss. However, the way Anzac Day is described above – and celebrated by most every New Zealander – does present a censored and self-congratulatory view of our military. Because we focus only upon our own fallen, and not upon those they felled.

Certainly, New Zealand soldiers have suffered unfairly because of the actions of others, and Anzac’s heart, Gallipoli, is an important reminder of this, because so many of our lads died in a needless military blunder. However, while we are always forced to remember Gallipoli, we have publicly forgotten every war crime committed by New Zealand troops. But we have committed war crimes, and we cannot truly commemorate our participation in war unless we acknowledge this. So I’m going to tell you about one of our worst crime: the Surafend massacre.

Over the last two years of the First World War, the NZ Mounted Rifle Brigade helped to defeat the Ottoman Empire in Palestine and the Sinai. After the war’s conclusion they were resting near the Jewish settlement Richon le Zion. Sometime after midnight on the tenth of December, 21-year-old Kiwi Trooper Leslie Lowry’s kit-bag/pillow was snatched from the tent in which he slept. Lowry ran out of the ten to confront the thief, who shot him in the chest.

When the soldiers woke up, they saw tracks leading away from their dead mate, towards the local Arab village, Surafend. They went and confronted the villagers, demanding that they give up the thief. At the same time, they watched a group of villagers leave. Depending on which source you trust, the village elder either said the killer had left the village, or became angry and spat. The New Zealanders returned to their camp, but when the military police refused to retaliate, they rounded up a few Aussies and some Brits and went and raided the village. The soldiers are reported to have forsaken using guns in the raid for fear that they’d shoot one another in the tussle, so they went in with bayonets, pick handles and iron wrapped in sacking, moved all the women and children out of the village, and beat around forty men to death before burning their houses. They then allowed the women and children to returned to their ruined home and dead loved ones.

General Allenby confined the Anzacs to their tent lines and banned the Arabs from their camps, then two days later moved camp to Rafah. No one was charged over this incident. The British Army eventually rebuilt the village, and charged the New Zealand government £858 and the Australian government £515.

This incident doesn’t mean that our soldiers were all bloodthirsty war-criminals, but it was itself a war crime, committed against civilians for whom they had nominally been fighting the last two years. The Mounted Riflemen had been, in many ways, brave soldiers, trying to do their best in a confusing and pointless situation. We should mourn our own soldiers, but what the Surafend massacre reminds us is that we should never forget those we have killed in return, for they did not deserve it. Let us remember instead the victims of all wars, whatever piece of land they come from.


Terry Kinloch, Devil’s On Horses: In the Words of the Anzacs in
the Middle East 1916-19.

Simon Wilson, Surafend 10 December 1918 (Hocken Library,


About the Author ()

Tristan Egarr edited in 2008. He threw a chair once.

Comments (12)

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  1. knobgobbler says:

    We do remember the dead of the other side, and the civilians. Artificed by some military dude quoting ataturk at the dawn ceremony”
    “Those heroes that shed their blood
    and lost their lives…
    You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country,
    therefore ret in peace.
    There is no difference between the Jonnies
    and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side.
    Here in this country of ours…
    You, the mothers,
    who sent their sons from far away countries
    wipe away your tears.
    Your sons are now lying in our bossom
    and are in peace.
    After having lost their lives on this land they have
    become our sons as well.”

    Your editorial is supposed to be the voice of the magazine. Not your personal opnion. What point are you making here? That New Zealanders and Australians are just as bad as everyone else. We knew that already. Making old people angry? So they keel over and die faster.

    What I guess you’re trying to say, is already being said, by the people who you say, don’t say it. I suggest you listen.

  2. knobgobbler: “That New Zealanders and Australians are just as bad as everyone else. We knew that already.”

    You and me may know this, since we’ve actually made an attempt to find it out, but the kind of trite “they died bravely defending our freedom” stuff that gets spouted out on Anzac day prevents most New Zealanders from knowing this. What I would like to see is more than just a bit of tokenistic “oh and we also feel sad for the enemy.”

    And in fact, we are indeed seeing more of this, so yes things are getting better. But they still have a long way to go, and acknowledging our war crimes will be a part of this journey.

  3. Kerry says:

    knobgobbler –

    BTW, check the Dompost website. The editorial is found by clicking on the ‘Opinion’ category button.

    Historically, the Editor is the only writer in the paper who is obliged to have an opinion. And as newspaper owners were often the Editors, this created the sense of power that the third estate now take for granted.

    Search for Tim Pankhurst’s editorials, if you dispute me. Now there’s a powerful and thoroughly opinionated man!
    Not that I promote his POV in any way, in point of fact I find him loathsome.

  4. Actually Kerry, I think you’ll find that the editorial represents the newspaper’s stance. Perhaps you could take MDIA101 next year and learn this for yourself. Whilst the editor could use the editorial to represent their own views, this is extremely uncommon in New Zealand – as is the editor actually writing the editorial.

    See how the bylines on the Dom Post’s editorials are ‘Dominion Post’ not Tim Pankhurst? This is because they are the paper’s views, not his, and probably not even written by him. Quite simply really if you just put two and two together.

  5. Junior says:

    Count Your Blessings and Point the Finger More Astutely

    Once again we are presented with the not so subtle vilification of those who serve, and the institution of which they are a part. Token acknowledgement of their sacrifice to avoid the counter argument is not so cunning. The likes of Peace Action Wellington make it quite clear what the truth is. Hypocrisy is alive and well in New Zealand. If there was real concern for veterans, as one example, Vietnam veterans wouldn’t still be fighting for acknowledgement and the damage done by Agent Orange. I’d like Salient to demonstrate their real commitment to those who serve and make a stand where it counts. Otherwise it amounts to idealistic trash which assumes despite a given war already being waged, that everything will be roses. Those who have done wrong already know it and must live (and die) with it. And your judgments.

    The UN has no teeth. The peacekeeper must sit back while an entire village is slaughtered because of policies peacenik types advocate. Because, if you just sit down and talk everything will be alright. There is no connection to reality. Don’t even mention the role and nature of severely filtered media has to play. By inaction the majority condone this sort of behaviour.

    Only when it happens to you do you truly care – in real terms. The likelihood of that though, you think, is remote indeed. A soldier must live with the fact his hands were tied by policies you support saw a thousand innocents killed, and a platoon of 30 militia go free. The hypocrisy is sick.

    Until everyone is considered a loss, until every soldier is treated as a human being, like the women and children, when Israeli lives equals Palestinian lives, when American lives equals Iraqi or whomever else… the hypocrisy and the passive hate will continue.

    If you spent as much time researching these things as you did googling “war crimes” + “Anzacs” many of these situations would never happen.

    A single SAS troop can save thousands more lives than it can take, but you’ll never understand that. During Operation Anaconda many American lives were saved because of what the SAS did in the mountains of Afghanistan. I’m not here to argue the point of the rights and wrongs of any operation, or any war. I’m here to stand up for those who serve while cake-eaters feel quite happy to kick those who serve in the guts.

    For 20 years I have had evil glares, the bad attitudes. I didn’t serve to be reminded of the pain of the past by people who take their freedom for granted every day of their lives – certainly not to be judged by those who are more concerned with coordinating their cellphone with their latest scarf. Those who insult the Arab people by wearing pink Shemagh, and don’t even know the link of the garb with the New Zealand military.

    The current generation of 18, 19, 20 year olds are concerned primarily with fashion, the X-Box and getting drunk on a Friday or Saturday night. In 1914-1918, in 1939-1945 those of that age where concerned with dying on a distant battlefield. You have no right to judge them. If you have any beef, take it directly to the government who sent them, or rather, their descendents.

    My mate fought against Iran – when he got to that age, he was thinking about picking up a rifle to defend his country. He has been here for more than a decade and still gets it in the neck from New Zealanders who are so quick to judge. A people which has not known war, or otherwise forgotten its true cost knows very little about love.

    All in all, the attitude makes me sick to the stomach. If you don’t believe such a horrific thing could not visit our very own, God’s Own… wonder to yourself why the Armstrong disappearing guns were installed. Look at the state of the world, right now. Consider all things. Ask yourself, in a world you claim makes us geographically isolated – 99% of our trade comes through shipping lanes. We have virtually no capacity to protect them. You remain happy…

    Our only means to protect ourselves from a 9/11 attack was taken from us by a government who also believes our troops have no need of close air support. In a nationwide survey, 75% of the country voted that the Skyhawks should remain. You stood by and did nothing. Democracy is flawed. And from a practical point of view for the soldier on the ground – who you have scant little regard for – events like Crete and Gallipoli will repeat themselves due to a lack of air cover. This becomes increasingly critical in a modern context. We have 105 new NZLAV vehicles for the Army at a cost of more than $650 million to the taxpayer (still yet to be deployed operationally) and without this air cover a single modern fighter could take out a column in one pass. Lets just say 50 New Zealand lives… and those 50 soldiers could be alive and protecting 1000 civilian lives, but because the current government and a complacent public don’t see the need for modern aircraft, well, this hypothetical scenario could so easily play out. How many lives are wasted because you sit back and say nothing? The average Kiwi, despite their do good attitude is quite selfish really.

    This from a government full of people who spat on Vietnam Veterans and has only just acknowledged their aliments from Agent Orange, made here, in New Zealand for the US military. If you shouted out loud for them, for the man who needs a blood transfusion every month because of that stuff I might consider you actually had a humanitarian bone in your body. Argue he shouldn’t have been there in the first place? The horse has already bolted. He was doing his job. And still, you judge him.

    If you had kept the article in proportion one sentence in a hundred would have referred to something negative. You might have otherwise commented on the hardships of soldiers, you might have reflected on, the rights and wrongs aside, which they must die with their experiences and their conscience. After a war they must still endure wounds and injuries, both physical and emotional. They also must endure protests from individuals who should know better and have more respect.

    You can get a degree and become an accountant, a lawyer, film director, a news presenter… none of which typically includes the need to concern yourself with life and limb on a daily basis, both your own or your mates’. None results in the cost of thought, because of bureaucracy, that you could not save that village from genocide.

    No acknowledgement of our former enemies? If you bother to look into it, veteran soldiers have nothing but respect for the majority of their enemies, including the Fallschirmjäger and Gebirgsjäger, and likewise, there are numerous examples of reunited former enemies of the RNZAF / RAF and the Luftwaffe who have kept up contact. You should go to France, or perhaps the best example you might find is the island of Crete – and see what sort of reaction you get it you say you’re a Kiwi.

    Turkey? Comments of mutual respect at a public level must have gone on deaf ears. Soldiers are the most genuine people you will meet. They call a spade a spade. Their consideration and respect for a former foe is far further reaching than anything a politician will express. Broad-ranging accusations effectively dismissing any positives from those who understand war and its consequences far outweigh the dominant attitudes of the current generation. This arrogance is a primary reason why wars continue to occur. The same sort of laziness is what prevents so many from getting up one day a year for the Dawn Service. But hey, those sales are just awesome right? It is an insult to those who have served, to the fallen.

    I think, or though there might be many who would object my citing biblical passages, perhaps the following quote might be apt:

    “For whoever is without sin cast the first stone.”

    I’m speaking to an audience for whom, for the most part, their mother was still changing their nappies when I was in uniform. Anzac Day is to think of ALL those who have suffered and died as a result of the horrific cost of war. Keep it in perspective, else the blood be on your own hands.

    I will repeat – those whose stresses and pressure and bloodshed I hope you will never see in your lifetime may have, as a result, done some pretty horrific things. They must live with it and you need not judge them. They need support, not condemnation.

    But I’ll tell you this – in some cases you might class as war crimes, a soldier sees as a terrible but necessary evil. How fortunate you are not called to make such decisions that impact so many lives. And no, I do not mean going in and systematically shooting innocent civilians.

    Please don’t use Anzac Day as a political forum. Instead, turn to the politicians and call them to task. Actually talk to veterans. Show some respect in real terms, don’t make token gestures of it in a poor attempt to present a balanced argument. If it was otherwise, perhaps the author would have said something in the Salient issue prior to Anzac Day, something positive – but then, that’s probably too difficult, and would be branded as propaganda, imperialistic, warmongering or otherwise gung ho. Personally, I proud to have served under the same flag of my forefathers.

    You’re bloody fortunate to be able to eat Anzac biscuits.

  6. knobgobbler says:

    Kerry: What Shitkicker said.
    I would also like to point out that the Herald which has, as a paper put it’s stance down on the EFA, does not put the editors name on Editorials either, and they are also included in the opinion section.Opinion is fine, but it should be the opinion of the publication.

    click here, if you dispute me. Now who is the weak yet thoroughly opinionated woman?

    Salient is the STUDENT magazine. How many students (not people like you, who no longer study) at Victoria, want to see marijuana legal. I know I don’t.

  7. wow… all I did was report a true story – the references are included – of NZ troops committing war crimes, just as a reminder that these things happened and to say we shouldn’t forget them. And suddenly you hate me, as if I’ve desecrated someone’s memory – but the truth is the truth. If you cannot accept that, then you really are self-censoring and your Anzac myths really are false.

    Furthermore, I’d like to remind you all of the rather obvious point that the student body does not hold the same opinion on anything. So neither does Salient, and if we tried to write an editorial that represented our combined voice each week, we would have to print a blank page.

  8. Jackson Wood says:

    Kerry: Knob and Shitkicker have a point… Ouch… Burn.

    I think that knob took it too far by saying what she/he said, however I do believe that there is a place for editorials that are from the magazine rather than the editor. There is plenty of room in the magazine for opinion pieces that may or may not be written by the editor. However I guess defining what Salient’s opinion is, is a bit harder, which is just one of the tasks of being editor. Kudos to Tristan if he has divined the mystical salient opinion. I do appreciate his columns, if not only for toilet paper, but the points of contention he brings to the magazine.

  9. Junior says:

    Tristan, no one hates you.

    Perhaps you need to read what I wrote again. I don’t hate anyone. I don’r even know you. That’s a pretty strong word mate. Perhaps you missed what I wrote like missing the broadside of a barn. I even acknowledged what you said – This stuff happens. I don’t need acedemic of internet references to know that. No one in their right mind does. Would you like me to give you some primary sources? I don’t need to be reminded.

    Don’t get so defensive mate, take a breath and read… slowly.

    I expressed an opinion, and by your own reckoning in the second paragraph, I have a right to do so. One would hope you didn’t want us to find our way to that blank page. The right of freedom of expression, well, that was given to me by my forefathers as it happens. Not some politican. Try focusing on that for a little while. That was the point of my post.

    Kia Kaha


  10. Matthew_Cunningham says:

    Junior: The point of Tristan’s post (as I interpreted it) was not in any way to villify or denounce “those who serve, and the institution of which they are a part”. He is merely pointing out that ANZAC Day and the ANZAC legend, as we understand and celebrate it, present a limited view of war, the men and women who fight it, and their characteristics.

    The ANZAC legend presents a very specific stereotype of the Kiwi and Aussie soldier – brave to the point of recklessness, stalwart in the face of danger, completely dedicated to his mates and their sense of camaraderie, and willing to sacrifice all solely for the service of his country. It does not acknowledge their shortcomings – they made mistakes and blunders; they ran, and on the odd occasion had to be forced to the front by the guns of their commanding officers; and yes, on the rare occasion, they killed indiscriminantly. Nor does it acknowledge the equal suffering of those they faced across the battlefield, although I like to think that in the commemoration of ANZAC Day there is a sense of camaraderie that extends beyond the bounds of nationality as you yourself have described. I’d even add, beyond Tristan’s comments, that the ANZAC legend extolls the virtues of the white male soldier whilst ignoring the selfless contributions of many thousands of women and indigenous people, both on the war front and on the home front.

    A recognition of the shortcomings of the ANZAC legend does not, in any way, take away from the sacrifices that veterans such as yourself have made for this country. Nor is it an attempt to spit in the faces of Vietnam veterans for fighting in an unpopular war (an action which, by the way, I find just as disgusting as you do). Soldiers of all kinds should be celebrated and remembered for their tireless efforts, yes – regardless of the public opinion of the war they fought in – but their shortcomings should be equally recognised and accountable. Furthermore, any national legend should make an attempt to be truly representative of all those within the nation who sacrificed.

    We are indeed fortunate to be able to eat ANZAC biscuits. And for the same reason, we are just as fortunate that we can have discussions such as these without fear of repression or reprisal.

  11. Raheel says:

    Hey, Junior. Repect. Soldiers need support. but, ANZAC IS a political forum and War will always be so for “Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed” – remember. The fallen must have our sympathy but their deeds at war must never be forgotten – the good ones and the bad.. for even in war there are rules, for without them Humanity would deteriorate into cannibalism. This is not criticism of soldiers, for the vast majority of them were good honest men and women, serving for what they believed was a good, just cause.
    However, to turn them into legends, unquestionable and in some cases, unimpeachable, would be a perilous adventure because it deliberately miseducates the future generations regarding the true nature of War and its gruesomeness. War veterans around the world are the worst-treated band of state employees and are routinely used as canon fodder. This must be the overarching message coming out of ANZAC Day. Peace. Victory to the Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis.. Associate with the devil (US, UK Imperial Armies) at your own peril. You can spray napalm like you did in Vietnam, or drop nuclear bombs, fire-bomb Tokyo, blanket-bomb Dresden, spread depleted-uranium laden cluster bombs in Iraq, Afganistan, Kosovo, Belgrade, rape, torture civilians in the name of OIL, World Domination but you can’t take away a man’s desire for personal freedom! Please save spit for ‘Dubya’ Bush, ‘Tony’ Blair, John Howard and other War mongers who send soldiers to fight for Halliburton and BP!

  12. Gibbon says:

    dude take it easy

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