GENEALOGY seems to become a more popular pastime year-on-year. In part, the trend for researching one’s family history is fed by websites such as and TV programmes like hit BBC show Who Do You Think You Are?

However, if you are tempted to start raking through your family’s past, you have to be prepared to come across some uncomfortable facts.

I remember Alexander Armstrong making a darkly hilarious comedy sketch about genealogy television programmes in which he ended up abandoning ­recording after some unwanted stories came to light. One family member turned out to be a brothel ­madam and another, a factory owner, had a sinister predilection for young children.

Sometimes reality can have an even deeper sense of irony than comic fiction, as I have discovered in my own dabbling in family research. Suffice it to say that my genealogical inquiries have brought an ­embarrassing and shameful skeleton tumbling out of the family closet.

To start at the beginning, like many Scottish ­people, my family background is a mixture of folk from around Scotland, the United Kingdom and beyond. My paternal grandparents hailed from ­Aberdeenshire and Lanarkshire, my maternal ­grandparents from ­Inverclyde and the English county of Norfolk.

The “skeleton” belongs to the Norfolk branch. Growing up I knew my Norfolk family, the ­Medlocks, as farming folk.

My grandfather worked around Scotland as a farm manager and his father and brother back in East ­Anglia worked farms and had their own smallholdings. Occasionally one would hear talk of ­“Uncle Eric”, my grandfather’s uncle and, therefore, my great grand-uncle, who had “been in the British ­Palestine Police”.

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In my barely politicised childhood I thought little of this distant relative from an almost forgotten past. However, recently, I became aware of a seemingly ­innocuous event (namely, a sale in a London auction house in 2011) that shed very clear, and disturbing, light on Uncle Eric’s time in Palestine.

Collectors of British military and imperial ­medals had sold a number of items through auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb. One of them, going for the not ­insignificant sum of £500, was a British Empire ­Medal (BEM), awarded by King George VI in 1937, “for meritorious service”, to one Eric William ­Medlock.

It transpires that Uncle Eric was somewhat more than “in” the British Palestine Police. Indeed to describe him as simply a “policeman” in Palestine would be akin to classifying Sweeney Todd as a mere “barber”.

Eric Medlock had joined the Palestine police force in 1929, and, by 1936, he was a Mounted Sergeant. He was promoted to Inspector in November 1938 and to Acting Superintendent of Police in September 1939.

In 1941, he was recorded as serving in the ­ominously named Mobile Police Striking Force in Nazareth. The “meritorious service” for which the King honoured him was “gallant and distinguished services during the April-October 1936 riots.”

The language in the citation was deliberately ­disingenuous. The Arab rebellion that Medlock had played such a notable role in trying to suppress was no mere series of “riots”, nor was it over by October 1936. In fact it marked the beginning of a fully-fledged revolutionary insurgency – an early-20th century Intifada, if you will – that would last until 1939.

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Britain had established its ­“mandate” to govern Palestine, under terms established by the League of Nations, in 1920, ­following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The indigenous Arab ­population of Palestine had very good reason to ­distrust their new imperial ­masters.

Just three years before, in 1917, ­British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour (a Scottish Tory) made his famous ­“Declaration”, in a letter to Walter, Lord Rothschild, that there should be “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. This would mean the partition of Palestine between the Arab and Jewish populations (the latter of which was, at that time, very much in the minority).

Balfour had added that, “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. However, Britain’s imperial history suggested that the Arab population should be extremely suspicious of the word of “perfidious ­Albion” on the question of their future national rights and liberties.

By 1936, with Jewish migration to ­Palestine on the increase, much of the Arab population was in revolt against the forces of the British Mandate.

AT this point, it should be noted that the actions of the British Government, both in supporting the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine and in providing the conditions for a significant rise in Jewish immigration, were not motivated by any kind of solidarity with the Jewish people.

Indeed, Balfour, during his period as Prime Minister, had overseen the passage of the 1905 Aliens Act, a pernicious piece of Priti Patel-style anti-immigrant legislation. The notorious Act had a particularly brutal impact on Jewish people ­seeking refuge from murderous, anti-Semitic ­pogroms in the Russian Empire.

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The denial by the British Government of shelter for Jews fleeing persecution ­extended into the 1930s and resulted in the refusal of entry to the United ­Kingdom of tens of thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. In their 2017 report Refugee History: The 1930s ­Crisis and Today, scholars Becky Taylor and Kate Ferguson record the refusal of as many as 520,000 visa applications by Jews fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe.

We can only imagine how many of those “failed asylum seekers” died in the Holocaust as a consequence.

In truth, when Uncle Eric joined the British Palestine Police in 1929, he was signing up to a project motivated, not by solidarity with Jews facing persecution, but by altogether baser, colonial objectives. Sir Ronald Storrs, British Military Governor of Jerusalem from 1917 to 1920 and District Commissioner of Jerusalem from 1920 to 1926, let the cat out of the bag when he opined that the purpose of the Balfour Declaration had been to create in Palestine a “little loyal ­Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile ­Arabism”.

The likes of Balfour, Storrs and, ­indeed, Winston Churchill supported the ­Zionist project to create a Jewish “national home” in Palestine, by way of partition, on the same basis that the declining British Empire proposed partition of Ireland in 1921 and India in 1947. If Britain could not retain a territory, in part or entirety, it should, at least, find a way of continuing to exert power and influence.

What that meant for Eric Medlock in 1936 was “pacification” of Arab ­rebellions. One didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that the Balfour plan to partition Palestine between Arabs and Jews would lead to growing tensions as the Arab population was gripped ever more strongly by the (as we now know, entirely justified) premonition of their being “ethnically cleansed” from their land.

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The British Palestine Police ­Association itself records the inevitable conflicts that arose in 1936. “The flash point occurred on 15th April, 1936 when Arab bandits murdered two Jews on the Tulkarm-Nablus Road. On the following day, members of the Irgun murdered two Arab workmen in a hut near Petah Tikva. Events escalated from then on.”

It is noteworthy that this colonialist recollection refers to the Arab insurgents as “bandits”, while the ultra-right wing Zionist militia the Irgun (which would, infamously, carry out the terrorist bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946) receives no such pejorative ­epithet.

Eric Medlock himself is recorded in the imperialistic history of the British Mandate in Palestine. In particular, his exploits are noted in Edward Horne’s ­distinctly colonialist 1982 book A Job Well Done: A History of the Palestine ­Police Force 1920-1948.

For instance, Horne describes a ­battle in 1938 between British forces ­commanded by Medlock and Arab ­insurgents. ­“[Sergeant Medlock] found himself in a trap when about seventy ­riflemen in well concealed positions poured fire into the party.

“The site was well chosen, and as the sun rose the police were blinded by the light and had difficulty in returning effective fire. In his own words, Medlock later stated ‘The position was a bit difficult’.

“Luckily a company of the ­Leicestershire Regiment arrived to help out. The Sergeant arranged with the ­Company Commander to drive up a rough track leading towards Tarshia ­village and to cut off the gang, while the Leicesters followed.

“At some distance the police came across a road block which the troops cleared, and while this work was in ­progress the army opened up with a two inch mortar which had some effect upon Fawzi’s men, who preferred to withdraw.

“Once free, Medlock pressed on for about four kilometres and ran into ­another ambush. This time the gang poured shots into the car from above and McBride found his Lewis gun had jammed. Impervious to danger he quietly went through parade ground practice of dismantling the gun to rectify the stoppage, while Medlock engaged the gang from a distance of some twenty yards or so, in the rocks nearby.

“Between police and army, a number of casualties were inflicted upon the ­Arabs and some prisoners were taken.”

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To read this account, one could ­almost be forgiven for thinking that the Arab ­militia were the aggressors and the ­British police were defending their own territory, in Hertfordshire, perhaps, or in Medlock’s native Norfolk. If the ­colonialist narrative fails to acknowledge that the British were, in fact, an occupation force in Palestine, there is no ­question that the Mandate police, and Medlock in ­particular, were despised by the ­indigenous Arab population.

A letter sent to the Inspector of the British Police in Nablus in 1936 indicates that Medlock was noted among the Arab people as an especially brutal officer. The letter read: “Warning. It was ascertained by us that Sergeant Medlock still commits all kinds of torture, beating and contempt against the Arabs in your area.

“He brings to memory his atrocities and murder of the innocent in Jaffa. We warn you to send him away and dismiss him from the Police Force.

“If you neglect this request, our ­reaction will be soon against you and all the English, by demolishing and blowing up all Police stations and your heads as a punishment.

“Signed: The ill-disposed and revolting souls.”

FOR many, one would hope most, people living in the UK today, it would be distressing to read the above description of a forebear as someone who brutalised, tortured and murdered Arab people in Mandate Palestine. For me, it carries a particularly bitter irony.

Since the age of 17, I have been a ­passionate supporter of the Palestine ­solidarity movement. As a teenager, I joined the Anti-Apartheid Movement against the racist regime in South ­Africa, and, as I learned about the plight of ­Palestinians living under the Israeli ­Occupation, it was natural that I also join the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

I was educated in my pro-­Palestinian politics by the great socialist, and ­Palestinian Jew, Yigael Glückstein (who went by the pen name of Tony Cliff).

Cliff explained how the partition of ­Palestine in 1948 and the subsequent ­creation of the Israeli state as a junior ­partner of Western, particularly ­American, ­imperialism was a disaster, not only for Palestinian Arabs, but also for Jews.

In his 1998 essay The Jews, Israel and the Holocaust, he recalled the day-to-day anti-Arab racism he witnessed among Zionist activists in Palestine. “The ­Histadrut [the Zionist labour union] organised pickets against orchard owners who employed Arab workers, forcing the owners to sack them…

“I remember in 1945 a cafe in Tel Aviv was attacked and almost entirely broken up because of a rumour that there was an Arab working in the kitchen washing the dishes.”

Having experienced this growing, right-wing nationalism among the Zionists in Palestine, it came as no surprise to Cliff that the State of Israel would become an oppressive force in the lives of the Palestinians.

When Cliff was growing up, the ­oppressor power in Palestine was the British Mandate. It is a source of no little shame to me that my great grand-uncle, Eric William Medlock, played such a ­brutal role in that colonial regime.