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A difficult Situation in the country, and the City: Beirut Bombed!

One of the last groups to board on Rue Sidani, 1948.jpg

ACS students leaving on Sidani street, ca. 1940s

Morris W. (2014), A history of ACS : the American Community School at Beirut 1905-2012

School is Over: the Free French and British are here: many students Leave

Curtis Strong,  Principal of ACS (1940 -1941) remembers:

"In mid-May 1941, I was called to a meeting in the office of President Bayard Dodge of the AUB, along with the heads of American Missionary and other organizations. Dr. Dodge described German infiltration into Lebanon and Syria, and told those at the meeting that he had secret intelligence that British and Free French forces in Palestine were planning a pre-emptive invasion. All Americans who wished to were being advised to evacuate. American schools were to be closed as quickly as possible. "Returning to the school, I called an Assembly and informed the students that school was over for the year. Jubilation reigned. I also formed teams of students to pack and mark everything so that the school could be reopened without confusion. The students set to with a will, and did a wonderful job. The teachers completed report cards for every student. Within a day or two, a convoy of private cars left Beirut for Jerusalem. It was such an impressive caravan, with the lead car flying an American flag, that French Indo-Chinese guard units along the way snapped to attention, much to the delight of the children. The vicissitudes of the long trip home via Jerusalem, Cairo and various sea routes is another story."

Morris W. (2014), A history of ACS : the American Community School at Beirut 1905-2012



Letter from Cesil Hourani to Constantine Zurayk on war conditions in Marjiyoun, 1941

Constantine Zurayk Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

Turmoil and a difficult situation in the country

August 11, 1941

Tleel House,



Dear Costi, […]

On the day on which I last saw you I went to Merjayoun with Burhan Dajani. I found the people very worried and nervous; rumors were flying around, and almost every night there was an alarm. Finally, after about two weeks, I felt obliged to leave for Palestine, which I did in the early hours of the morning. This saved me from anything from internment to execution. You will be astonished and horrified when you learn the full details of the events which took place in Merjayoun: the savagery of the Vichy forces, the condemnation and execution of innocent persons, the looting of houses and girls, the assaults on girls. My uncle Salaam Racy narrowly escaped with his life: he had to live for twenty-four days in the open with his mother. In the village of Ible el Saki eight of the finest young men were taken from the church and shot, among them a close friend and relative, Assaf Sabbagh whom you may know. The people of Jedeide had a terrible time; at one moment half the town was with one side, half with the other; the fighting went from house to house. Hardly any house escaped damage or looting. Our house, thanks to God, was one of the few with insignificant damage. All my clothes and books were there, but were untouched. […]

Write to me to Jedeide.

Best wishes to all friends.

Yours sincerely

Cecil Hourani



11 Squadron RAF Blenheims bombing Beirut, 1941.jpg

11 Squadron RAF Blenheims bombing Beirut, 1941


The British and Free French are here: End of the Vichy Occupation:

June 8th, we learned that the British and Free French were in­vading from the south.    The Vichy army put up a strong resistance and a number of Vichy ships made sorties every day, to keep the coast clear.    One evening a British cruiser attacked a French destroyer in front of the campus, and there was violent firing, until the French vessel was sunk. There were 29 air raids over the city, 19 of which were carried out by the Royal Air Force against military objectives..The other ten attacks were against mosques,  churches, the Municipality and various institutions. We learned afterwards that they were secretly conducted by German planes, pretending to belong to the R.A.F.  A two ton German bomb fell back of the Hospital, but fortunately did not go off. The anti-aircraft barrage at night was deafening.



Archaeological museum jpg.jpg

AUB Archaeological museum, ca. 1900

Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

Safety Measures, and the Campus as a shelter

We moved our antiquity collection and other valuables to a basement, walled up food supplies,  transferred the office to a safe place, and turned over three large buildings to families, who wished to sleep on the campus.    Every evening between 200 and 350 people from the city slept under the trees or in shelters, thinking that the British would not bomb the University,    Over 58 wounded colonial soldiers were cared for in the Hospital and the ladies* Red Cross work, which had been started in April,  became very active.    Twice a week the ladies used the Faculty Room for making pajamas, bandages, and other supplies.


Australian Army transport trucks move along the coast road in Lebanon during the Syria-Lebanon campaign

Leaving the Area

"Most ACS families who fled to Palestine made their way back to the United States. Some families, however, remained in Beirut. These fami­lies contended with aerial bombings, invading armies, food shortages, and subsequent political turmoil.

Morris W. (2014), A history of ACS : the American Community School at Beirut 1905-2012


Devant le Serail de Beyrouth, le general d'armee Catroux, accompagne du General de Larminat

[La proclamation de l'independance libanaise] : le 26 novembre 1941, à Beyrouth, p:3

A new Era Begins: the Allies arrive

The most unexpected thing was that almost all of our French friends, who a few weeks before had been intensely anti-German, now became anti-British Instead. At the end of June the Australians crossed the Damur River and the British Fleet bombarded the Vichy artillery posts between Shimlan and Abayh»    July 9th, the French guns west of the University fired on the British troops, who were moving up the coast to the olive grove.    That evening a British plane dropped papers, bearing an ultimatum, on the campus.    The night watchman picked up one of these papers, which soon found its way to Cornelius van Engert, the American Consul General,    He presented the ultimatum to General Dentz, who was clad in his pajamas.    Before sunrise the guns stopped firing and an armistice was arranged for. July 15, 1941, the Australians and Free French occupied the city, and a new chapter began in the history of Lebanon.    In the mean­time, Free French planes dropped printed notices over Damascus, officially announcing that General de Gaulle was coming to make Syria and Lebanon Independent and sovereign states.


Australian troops among the ruins of the old Crusader castle at Sidon, Lebanon.jpg

Australian troops among the ruins of the old Crusader castle at Sidon, Lebanon, Australian War Mmeorial,

A surprise Victory for the Allies

"We were amazed because Hitler never sent reinforcements to Syria and neglected to hold the Near East, when he had it in his power to do so. America was still neutral and Russia was still his ally. There was only one piece of artillery to guard Cyprus and a well-equipped French army was serving the German cause in Syria and Lebanon. Iraq with its oil wells was on the German side and the great-majority of Arabs in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt wanted the Germans to free them from the French and the Jews. It was clear that if Hitler should take advantage of this situation he could seize Suez and Southern Persia, with the petroleum fields and air bases, upon which the British Empire depended for its existence As we learned that we had been saved from what seemed to be inevitable catastrophe, we felt especially grateful to the Greeks and British, who had given their lives to exhaust the Germans in Greece and Crete, as well as to the Turks, whose heroic loyalty to the Allies saved the whole Near East from disaster.