HC Deb 15 May 1946 vol 422 cc257-8W
142. Mr. Molson

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will make a full statement regarding the attack on 4th March of an Egyptian mob on a military police post in Alexandria, the failure of both the Egyptian and British authorities to answer the repeated telephone calls for assistance, and the consequent murder of two British military policemen.

Mr. Bellenger:

Yes, Sir. At approximately mid-day on 4th March last, an anti-British demonstration occurred in Alexandria, and the assembled crowd took a provocative interest in a British military police post situated in the centre of the city. The garrison, which consisted of five military policeman, endeavoured to hold off the threatening crowd by firing shots overhead. These measures failed, and the garrison was forced to open fire on the crowd in its own defence.

Both the responsible British military authorities and the Egyptian military and police authorities were acquainted with this development at an early stage. The former took no immediate offensive action, as to do so might have caused a much more serious incident than the one I am now reporting, and also because they had received the strongest representations from the Governor of Alexandria to adopt this somewhat passive attitude, together with an assurance that the Egyptian authorities had the situation in hand.

For approximately one hour spasmodic British fire continued from the garrison, and this ceased on assurances being given by an Egyptian Army officer that the crowd would be dispersed and the garrison safely evacuated. The local British Military Commander, however, had become anxious concerning the adequacy of the protection afforded by the Egyptian authorities to the British soldiers in the garrison, and in consequence he issued orders that a military flying column should stand by for action at short notice. The British Military Commander was reluctant to use this force in view of the strong representations he had received from the Governor of Alexandria not to do so, and the flying column, because of the uncertainty of the actual situation, and the assurances to which I have referred, never went into action.

In the meantime, attacks on the post were resumed and the garrison was forced to take refuge in a cell; shortly afterwards the whole of the post was observed to be burning. The non-commissioned officer in charge gave orders to evacuate and run to an Egyptian cordon which was nearby. In this attempt, three of the soldiers managed to escape to a nearby hotel, where they were given protection by some Egyptians, but I regret to say that the other two soldiers were killed by the crowd.

The British Military Commander had, shortly prior to the murder of the British soldiers, been incorrectly informed by the Governor of Alexandria that the British garrison had been successfully evacuated. He was placed in a very difficult position in view of the requests and the assurances received from the Governor of Alexandria, and in view of the risk that the use of British troops might be provocative and so lead to even more serious disturbances.

Nevertheless, the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East Forces, does not exonerate the local Military Commander from blame and has removed him from his appointment. The officer concerned has appealed to the Army Council against this decision and full consideration will of course be given to his appeal.