Walter Edward Guinness, 1st Baron Moyne, DSO & Bar, PC (29 March 1880 – 6 November 1944) was an Anglo-Irish politician and businessman. He served as the British minister of state in the Middle East until November 1944, when he was assassinated by the Jewish terrorist group Lehi.
The assassination of Lord Moyne sent shock waves through Palestine and the rest of the world.
Walter Guinness was born in Dublin, Ireland, the third son of the 1st Earl of Iveagh. His family homes were at Farmleigh near Dublin, and at Elveden in Suffolk.
At Eton, Guinness was elected head of ‘Pop’, the club for prefects, and was appointed Captain of Boats.
On 24 June 1903, he married Lady Evelyn Hilda Stuart Erskine (1883–1939),third daughter of Shipley Gordon Stuart Erskine, 14th Earl of Buchan. The Earls of Buchanwere an ancient family in the Scottish nobility. They had three children, Bryan (d.1992), Murtogh (d.2002) and Grania.
In the early afternoon of 6 November 1944, Eliyahu Bet-Zuri and Eliyahu Hakim of the Jewish militant group Lehi waited for Moyne near his home in Cairo following a well-planned and much practised plan of action to assassinate Moyne.
Moyne arrived in his car with his driver, Lance Corporal Arthur Fuller, his secretary, Dorothy Osmond, and his ADC, Major Andrew Hughes-Onslow. The ADC went to open the front door of the residence and the driver got out to open the door for Moyne. They were suddenly told not to move, as Bet-Zuri emerged and shot Fuller in the chest, causing him to collapse in the driveway and bleed to death in minutes. Hakim then pulled the car door open and shot Moyne three times. The first bullet hit him in the neck on the right side, just above the clavicle, the second penetrated his abdomen, punctured his colon and large intestine, and became embedded to the right of the second lumbar vertebrae, while the third shot, fired after Moyne raised his right hand, ripped across four of his fingers and went in and out of his chest, causing no serious injuries.
Hakim and Bet-Zuri ran out of the yard, jumped on their rented bicycles, and began pedaling down the street away from the scene. Major Hughes-Onslow rushed to the sentry box and raised the alarm. Hearing it, Hakim and Bet-Zuri turned onto a side street. They had very nearly gotten away when an Egyptian motorcycle policeman, El-Amin Mahomed Abdullah, caught up to them. Hakim and Bet-Zuri were determined not to injure any Egyptians in their operation, and so did not attempt to shoot him off his motorcycle. Rather, Bet-Zuri fired a volley of warning shots in his direction, which he ignored. Abdullah then dismounted and ordered him to drop his weapon. Bet-Zuri attempted to shoot out the motorcycle’s tires, but found that his pistol had run out of ammunition, and as he attempted to reload it, Abdullah fired, hitting Bet-Zuri in the chest. Hearing the commotion, Hakim turned back to help Bet-Zuri, and within minutes, another policeman appeared, and the two were placed under arrest.
Meanwhile, Moyne regained consciousness, and in a few minutes, a doctor and ambulance arrived. Moyne was rushed to a British military hospital in Cairo, and admitted at 1:40 p.m., in critical condition, having lost a great deal of blood through gross hemorrhaging and suffering from shock. Five minutes later, he was given the first of three blood transfusions, causing his condition to improve. After he complained of a burning sensation down his right leg and an inability to move it, X-rays revealed an injury to his thoracic vertebrae. Later, his right arm also became paralyzed as a result of the neck wound. Doctors were reluctant to operate until his condition improved, but at 5:30, a lumbar puncture revealed a blood stain, and it was decided to operate. He was given another blood transfusion, and in the operation that followed, surgeons removed the bullet lodged near the second lumbar vertebra and discovered the injuries to the colon and large intestine, while the neck wound and finger wounds were cleaned. Soon after the operation, his condition began to deteriorate, and he died at 8:40 pm, aged 64
As the principal witness at the trial, Major Hughes-Onslow became a marked man and was sent to Aden and then to Khartoum for his safety. He subsequently said, “No doubt Lord Moyne could have been regarded as a target for political assassination, but the shooting of the chauffeur was pure murder.”
Moyne’s body was flown home to England and cremated on 17 November at Golders Green Crematorium.
According to Lehi leader Natan Yellin-Mor, the group’s founder Ya’ir Stern had considered the possibility of assassinating the British Minister Resident in the Middle East as early as 1941 before Moyne held the position.
Moyne’s predecessor Richard Casey was deemed unsuitable because he was Australian.When Moyne replaced Casey in 1944, planning for the operation began.
As well as being the highest British official within Lehi’s reach, Moyne was regarded as personally responsible for Britain’s Palestine policy. In particular, he was regarded as one of the architects of Britain’s strict immigration policy, and to have been responsible for the British hand in the Struma disaster,which followed a refusal to grant visas to Palestine for its Jewish refugee passengers, decided during his time as Colonial Secretary.According to Bell, Lord Moyne was known to the underground as an Arabist, who had consistently followed an anti-Zionist line.
According to Yaakov Banai (Mazal), who served as the commander of the fighting unit of Lehi, there were three purposes in the assassination:
- To show the world that this conflict was not between a government and its citizens as Britain had tried to show but between citizens and a foreign ruler.
- To demonstrate that the conflict was between the Jewish people and the British Imperialism.
- To take the “War of Liberation” out of the Land of Israel and the Yishuv. The trial was not planned, but the action had to capture a place in the world press and lead political thoughts.
Author James Barr suggests that a French intelligence initiative was behind Moyne’s murder, because of his support for the Greater Syria plan.
After the assassination, Lehi announced:
We accuse Lord Moyne and the government he represents, with murdering hundreds and thousands of our brethren; we accuse him of seizing our country and looting our possessions. We were forced to do justice and to fight.
Bet-Zuri and Hakim initially gave false names, but their true identities were soon discovered. They were tried in an Egyptian court.
Eventually, the Lehi members were found guilty and, on 18 January 1945, sentenced to death. Their appeals for clemency were dismissed, probably partly in response to pressure from Winston Churchill, who had been Moyne’s ally and close personal friend.They were hanged on 23 March 1945.