“Black and Tans” in Palestine


British Gendarmerie in Palestine, c. 1918.

When one thinks of the Auxiliary Division and the Black and Tans, warm, sand strewn streets, hot suns and kefiya clad natives are not what immediately springs to mind! But on closer inspection it can be determined that many members of the Division, upon the cessation of their contracts in Ireland, took further shillings from the King.


image   The years after the First World War were tumultuous ones for the British Empire. The relatively small  (by Continental standards) professional army which had so successfully policed the far flung British possessions, now largely lay slain in Flanders, Gallipoli and the Middle East. The Army that ended the war was markedly different from the one which started it! Populated largely with ‘new’ citizen soldiers, conscripts, subalterns and all with little experience of anything but trench warfare, it was to learn colonial duties the hard way.




The war had broken the British economy. Military spending ran at a gallop, budgeting was unheard of and inflation was rampant. The Treasury slowly but surely began to exert influence on governmental expenditure, the Geddes Axe fell on the armed forces and demobilisation reduced the army to less than its pre-war numbers. The war was over, so the thinking went, the enemy had been defeated and a large standing army was no longer needed.




But the war wasn’t really over. Yes Germany and the Central powers had been defeated, but ‘brushfires’ remained. Some significant conflicts still raged including the Russian Civil War, the fighting in Chanak (Turkey), the Anglo-Irish War. There was also increased difficulties in India and the frontier with Russia. Problems abounded and solutions with a diminished army were scarce.




The British forces experimented with the idea of using irregular military forces to augment their badly overstretched forces. Deployments of recently demobilised soldiers and officers to Ireland ended not only in failure (the growing insurgency wasn’t halted and actually achieved national self determination), but also in scandalous notoriety. Paramilitary widespread fraud, coupled with acknowledged cases of torture, arson, indiscipline, extra-judicial murders and alleged roving death squads (the Police Mobile Force in particular earned a reputation for brutality in the years after the Second World War).




But this debacle did not dissuade the British Colonial Office and Winston Churchill from the concept; instead they felt it merely needed refinement. In the Mandate of Palestine, the British had inherited a powderkeg of emotions, roiling passions and a scarcely fathomable hatred between Jew and Muslim. Worse was the fact that both sides viewed the British as being biased toward the others.


Winston Churchill and his wife shaking hands with Prince (later King of Jordan) Abdullah, c. 1921

The existing forces were poorly disposed, with their small European contingents, to exert much positive influence on matters. The Colonial Office decided to raise a British based gendarmerie in order to technically curb extremism, but more importantly to free up costly regular garrison forces for service elsewhere within the empire.


British Soldiers in the Middle East c. 1920

While this seemed like a sound plan in theory, in theory things usually are. Not content with having subjected their own countrymen (Ireland was still technically an integral part of the United Kingdom with Sir Henry Wilson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff coming from there) to the horrors of the Black and Tans,  the government did not even change the script in Palestine. General HH Tudor, former Police Advisor to the Irish Government was installed in a similar position in the Mandate and he quickly set about recruiting what would effectively become the Middle East section of the Royal Irish Constabulary.


General Henry Hugh Tudor, c.1920

Tudor recruited several hundred ex-RIC men (both Black and Tans and Auxiliaries, along with regular RIC) to form a crack cadre of counterinsurgency police, with which he hoped to exert substantial control over the locals and preemp disturbances. He only half succeeded in his plans.


Douglas Valder Duff

Men like Douglas Valder Duff (a former Black and Tan from Ireland) and Raymond Oswald Cafferata (a former Auxiliary, with C Coy of the Kilmichael Ambush) fitted well into the pro forma set out for the colonial policeman, but as history has shown, they quickly made the role their own. Duff in particular acquired a reputation for ruggedness and brutality, which was almost unique even in the turbulent interwar period in the colonies. Hated by both sides, anecdotes abound of full blown fist-fights with protesters, whippings (he usually carried a bull whip and a .45 calibre pistol, even when an officer), shots fired over and at protesters; it’s little surprise that he was targeted for assassination by both Jewish and Palestinian groups.


Raymond Oswald Cafferata

Cafferata fared better but also ran into controversy with his (allegedly) heavy handling of the Hebron riot. He was also accused of using interrogation techniques which occasionally bordered on torture. But Cafferata and Duff both learned their policing trade in an Ireland which was best known for its absence of effective policing, so can the tools really be blamed, when the craftsman lacked foresight? In Palestine, as in Ireland and later in Kenya and India the policing tools were constantly wrong. They were wrong because the powers that be in charge of formulating colonial policy constantly sought coercion over cohesion. In Palestine, as in Ireland, strong passions ruled. But in Palestine as in Ireland, the erosion of the non-aligned centre, the regressive policies aimed at retaining the nineteenth century’s hegemonic imperial rule and above all else the unnecessary use of overwhelming force drove a wedge between ruler and ruled. The Black and Tans were merely the thin end of the wedge in two theatres.


Further Reading 







About eamonntgardiner

Dr. Eamonn T. Gardiner, is a Consulting Historian. He has previously conducted research into links between wartime traumatic-neurosis and evidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) amongst veterans of the First World War serving as Auxiliary Policemen, during the Anglo-Irish War 1919-1921. He has written extensively on British central and colonial administrative responses to popular insurgencies. In 2009 he published 'Counterinsurgency and Conflict: Dublin Castle and the Anglo-Irish War (CSP, 2009).' Published papers include; 'The training of the Irish Volunteers, 1913-1916' (The Irish Sword, 2017); 'Scattered, Ambushed and Laid Out: War and Counterinsurgency in the greater Tuam area, 1919-1921' (JOTS, 2015). Research interests include De-Colonialisation/Post-Colonialism; Insurgency, Police/Military Histories; Institutional Histories; Modern Irish/World History; History of Conflict, Protectorates and Peace-Keeping; Hegemony; Old and New Terrorism.
This entry was posted in Auxiliary Division, Britain, Conflict, First World War, Insurgency, Palestine, Royal Irish Constabulary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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