Jack Simmonds – survivor of King David Hotel terrorist bombing – dies aged 99

Jack Simmonds (circled) with fellow prisoners-of-war at Oflag XXIB, Schubin

One of the last British survivors of the infamous 1946 attack on the King David Hotel by Jewish terrorists has died aged 99.

Squadron Leader Jack Simmonds piloted a Whitley bomber for a few weeks during the spring of 1941 before he was shot down over Holland, spending the next four years as a prisoner-of-war.

Held at first in a Bavarian castle, Simmonds was transferred to several other PoW camps ending up at Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Silesia (now part of Poland). Here he was involved in the successful escape of three fellow prisoners in October 1943 using a ‘wooden horse’, later dramatised as the 1950 film The Wooden Horse (available on BBC Iplayer for the next eight days).

In late January 1945 Simmonds and other prisoners were evacuated from Sagan and began a long march westward with their German guards in bitter weather, ahead of the advancing Soviet Red Army.

Simmonds and his fellow PoWs eventually arrived in Luckenwalde, south of Berlin, which was captured by the Soviets at the end of April 1945, and on the arrival of US forces soon afterwards he was repatriated to the UK, where he was quickly back with the RAF.

In November 1945 he was sent to Cairo, then to the RAF Station at Lydda Palestine, where he became camp adjutant. By 1946 he was adjutant of No. 651 Squadron, which then flew Auster reconnaissance planes and played an important role in ‘Operation Agatha’, a major round-up of terrorists at the end of June 1946.

On Monday 22nd July 1946 Simmonds was off-duty in the King David Hotel, Jerusalem, which then housed administrative headquarters for the British Mandate authorities. Future Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion ordered the hotel to be bombed, with minimal advance warning, so as to ensure destruction of a large cache of intelligence files related to the British anti-terrorist campaign.

The mission was handled by another future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, whose Irgun was at times a rival to Ben-Gurion’s Haganah but during this period was secretly allied to it. Future writers often found it convenient to blame Begin and the Irgun for this bombing while exonerating the supposedly more ‘moderate’ Haganah, but the true story of the terror campaign was explored by H&D assistant editor Peter Rushton and by Lady Michèle Renouf in the above videos.

The aftermath of the King David Hotel bombing, July 1946

The King David bombing caused 91 deaths (including 28 Britons) and many horrific injuries, but Jack Simmonds survived the terrorist attack unscathed and remained with the RAF until retirement in 1968, latterly at Lindholme in South Yorkshire. To commemorate Battle of Britain week in 1951, he landed his Sunderland flying boat on the Thames near Greenwich then taxied to Tower Bridge which was opened for him, remaining moored near the bridge for six days.

His wife Mary, herself a WAAF veteran, died in 2012: they are survived by three sons.

Squadron Leader Jack Simmonds, born 8th December 1920, died 2nd April 2020, RIP.

Jack Simmonds landed his Scarborough flying boat on the Thames to mark Battle of Britain week, 1951

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