Family hero in a faraway land.

It may be a badly dealt hand: fate, questionable luck or something altogether ethereal. Whichever way, consequences can be fatal at worst. Peter Robertson McEwan was my great-uncle. I never knew him. He died in a hail of terrorist bullets on his way from prayer services at Anglican Christ Church in Nazareth on 26 September 1937. He is buried in the Protestant Mount Zion cemetery in Jerusalem, far from his family home. And far from the home he was about to make.

Peter was to leave the Palestine Police force, where he served as a bodyguard, the next day. From there, off around the world to be married in New Zealand. A young woman’s plans shattered, with a family of in-laws that she would never meet, a fiancé she’d never see again.

His death, or rather that of the man he was guarding, reverberated around the world. Lewis Andrews was British district Commisioner in Galilee. Andrews had made an error of judgement allegedly using his influence in favour of partition of the British Mandate in Palestine. For this, Andrews was  targeted for assassination by Hajj Amin al-Husayni  leader of a Muslim faction. Al-Husayni later was to have meetings with Hitler helped organise Muslim recruits to the SS and is even alleged to have had dealings in death camps throughout Europe (see Wikipedia). Regardless of his future dealings, he was a suspect in this particular incident even if it was a moral suspicion due to his powerful influences.

The assassination of Andrews had the hallmarks of a thoroughly British script. The party, leaving the church were confronted by the assassins. One wore peasant clothes, the others wore European attire with red felt caps and blue tassels. Andrews tried to warn his compatriot Mr Pirie Gordon from the ADC’s office. “Run for it, Gordon,” he said, “they’ve got us.” he shouted. Gordon turned to run, but fell over a bucket of water. Andrews fell on top of him and the gunmen shot him on the ground. He died instantly protecting the fallen Gordon, who escaped. My great-uncle, unable to draw his pistol was shot in the head and shoulder. He died an hour later in hospital. Both men were given military funerals. A typically British incident in its small acts: heroism, concern for others, bravery and a down-playing of situational gravity.

The aftermath of this incident was worldwide outrage, and hundreds were arrested in the search for the killers. Dogs scoured the area, finding nothing. Fines threatened by rulers on communities, random searches, roadblocks and general harassment of locals produced nothing. It all sounds fairly familiar of the modern day in the same place.

Incidents such as these are the sum of very ordinary parts. My great-uncle, about to leave the force, emigrate and marry. Andrews, erudite, polyglot (including Arabic and Hebrew) and a family man. Their ripple effect, however, stretched in Peter’s case from New Zealand to Scotland. You don’t get any bigger ripple effect.

His grave is well tended, though no family visitors have lain flowers. I don’t know what happened to his fiancée or even her name. Through the passage of time first or second hand memory of Peter and his wife-to-be have been lost. All that remains are newspaper reports and some dedicated web pages of the killing of Andrews. Below are images of Peter McEwan’s birth entry in 1907, and his grave in 1937. The capital letter and full stops in everyone’s life sentences. His life promised much with his new planned life, but call of duty on the day before he left the Palestine Police cost him his, and his fiancée’s future together.

I never knew him. I wish I had.

Peter's Birth Registry
Peter’s registry of Births entry 1907


Andrews, ADC, died in the incident also. (courtesy of Wikipedia)


Amin al-Husayni (courtesy of Wikipedia)


Peter McEwan’s grave, Jerusalem


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