HOW JERUSALEM WAS WON
BEING THE RECORD OF ALLENBY'S CAMPAIGN IN PALESTINE
OFFICIAL CORRESPONDENT OF THE LONDON NEWSPAPERS WITH THE EGYPTIAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS AND MAPS
This narrative of the work accomplished for civilisation by General Allenby's Army is carried only as far as the occupation of Jericho. The capture of that ancient town, with the possession of a line of rugged hills a dozen miles north of Jerusalem, secured the Holy City from any Turkish attempt to retake it. The book, in fact, tells the story of the twenty-third fall of Jerusalem, one of the most beneficent happenings of all wars, and marking an epoch in the wonderful history of the Holy Place which will rank second only to that era which saw the birth of Christianity. All that occurred in the fighting on the Gaza-Beersheba line was part and parcel of the taking of Jerusalem, the freeing of which from four centuries of Turkish domination was the object of the first part of the campaign. The Holy City was the goal sought by every officer and man in the Army; and though from the moment that goal had been attained all energies were concentrated upon driving the Turk out of the war, there was not a member of the Force, from the highest on the Staff to the humblest private in the ranks, who did not feel that Jerusalem was the greatest prize of the campaign.
In a second volume I shall tell of that tremendous feat of arms which overwhelmed the Turkish Armies, drove them through 400 miles of country in six weeks, and gave cavalry an opportunity of proving that, despite all the arts and devices of modern warfare, with fighters and observers in the air and an entirely new mechanism of war, they continued as indispensable a part of an army as when the legions of old took the field. This is too long a story to be told in this volume, though the details of that magnificent triumph are so firmly impressed on the mind that one is loth to leave the narration of them to a future date. For the moment Jerusalem must be sufficient, and if in the telling of the British work up to that point I can succeed in giving an idea of the immense value of General Allenby's Army to the Empire, of the soldier's courage and fortitude, of his indomitable will and self-sacrifice and patriotism, it will indeed prove the most grateful task I have ever set myself.
I. PALESTINE'S INFLUENCE ON THE WAR
II. OLD BATTLEGROUNDS
III. DIFFICULTIES OF THE ATTACK
IV. TRAINING THE ARMY
V. RAILWAYS, ROADS, AND THE BASE
VI. PREPARING FOR 'ZERO DAY'
VII. THE BEERSHEBA VICTORY
VIII. GAZA DEFENCES
IX. CRUSHING THE TURKISH LEFT
X. THROUGH GAZA INTO THE OPEN
XI. TWO YEOMANRY CHARGES
XII. LOOKING TOWARDS JERUSALEM
XIII. INTO THE JUDEAN HILLS
XIV. THE DELIVERANCE OF THE HOLY CITY
XV. GENERAL ALLENBY'S OFFICIAL ENTRY
XVI. MAKING JERUSALEM SECURE
XVII. A GREAT FEAT OF WAR
XVIII. BY THE BANKS OF THE JORDAN
XIX. THE TOUCH OF THE CIVILISING HAND
XX. OUR CONQUERING AIRMEN
LIST OF MAPS
PLAN OF SOUTHERN PALESTINE
PLAN OF GAZA-BEERSHEBA LINE
PLAN OF THE BETH-HORON COUNTRY
PLAN OF THE BATTLE OF JERUSALEM
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
OFFICIAL ENTRY INTO THE HOLY CITY. GENERAL ALLENBY RECEIVED BY THE MILITARY GOVERNOR OP JERUSALEM, DECEMBER 11, 1917
KANTARA TERMINUS OF THE DESERT MILITARY RAILWAY
EAST FORCE H.Q. DUG-OUTS NEAR GAZA
WADI GHUZZE NEAR SHELLAL
OUR WATERWORKS AT SHELLAL
ON THE MOVE IN THE DESERT
THE GREAT MOSQUE AT GAZA
TURKISH HEADQUARTERS AT GAZA. Note the Crusader Lion in Wall.
A DESERT MOTOR ROAD NEAR SHELLAL
TURKISH DUG-OUTS AT GAZA
BEERSHEBA RAILWAY STATION WITH MINED ROLLING STOCK
LIEUT.-GEN. SIR HARRY CHAUVEL OUTSIDE BEERSHEBA MOSQUE, NOVEMBER 1, 1917
EL MUGHAR. THE SCENE OF A YEOMANRY CHARGE
BURIAL-PLACE OF ST. GEORGE, PATRON SAINT OF ENGLAND (AT LUDD)
YEOMANRY GRAVES AT BETH-HORON THE UPPER, WHERE JOSHUA COMMANDED THE SUN TO REMAIN STILL TO ENABLE THE ISRAELITES TO OVERTHROW THE PHILISTINES
IN THE JUDEAN HILLS
A ROMAN CENTURION'S TOMB, KURYET EL ENAB
ONE OF KING SOLOMON'S POOLS
A TYPICAL NEW ZEALANDER
WADI SURAR, CROSSED BY LONDON TERRITORIALS ON THE MORNING OF THEIR ASSAULT ON THE JERUSALEM DEFENCES
THE DEIR YESIN POSITION WEST OF JERUSALEM
EASTERN FACE OF NEBI SAMWIL MOSQUE, SHOWING DESTRUCTION BY TURKISH SHELL-FIRE
OFFICIAL ENTRY INTO THE HOLY CITY. GENERAL ALLENBY ARRIVING OUTSIDE THE JAFFA GATE
OFFICIAL ENTRY. GENERAL ALLENBY RECEIVING THE MAYOR OF JERUSALEM (A DESCENDANT OF MAHOMET)
JERUSALEM FROM MOUNT OF OLIVES
JERUSALEM FROM GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE
PANEL IN THE CHAPEL OF THE KAISERIN AUGUSTA VICTORIA HOSPICE ON THE MOUNT OF OLIVES
CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY, BETHLEHEM
AIN KARIM, PART OF THE JERUSALEM DEFENCES
RIVER AUJA, CROSSED AT NIGHT BY LOWLAND TERRITORIALS
JERISHEH MILL, RIVER AUJA, ONE OF THE LOWLANDERS' CROSSINGS
BARREL BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER AUJA
DESTROYED BRIDGE ON THE JERICHO ROAD
THE WILDERNESS, WITH A GLIMPSE OF THE DEAD SEA
LONDONERS' BRIDGE OVER THE JORDAN. THE RIVER IS IN FLOOD
GERMAN PRISONERS CROSSING THE JORDAN
NEW ZEALAND MOUNTED RIFLES AT BETHLEHEM
A HAIRPIN BEND ON THE JERUSALEM ROAD
PALESTINE'S INFLUENCE ON THE WAR
In a war which involved the peoples of the four quarters of the globe it was to be expected that on the world's oldest battleground would be renewed the scenes of conflict of bygone ages. There was perhaps a desire of some elements of both sides, certainly it was the unanimous wish of the Allies, to avoid the clash of arms in Palestine, and to leave untouched by armies a land held in reverence by three of the great religions of the world. But this ancient cockpit of warring races could not escape. The will of those who broke the peace prevailed. Germany's dream of Eastern Empires and world domination, the lust of conquest of the Kaiser party, required that the tide of war should once more surge across the land, and if the conquering hosts left fewer traces of war wreckage than were to be expected in their victorious march, it was due not to any anxiety of our foes to avoid conflict about, and damage to, places with hallowed associations, but to the masterly strategy of the British Commander-in-Chief who manoeuvred the Turkish Armies out of positions defending the sacred sites.
The people of to-day who have lived through the war, who have had their view bewildered by ever-recurring anxieties, by hopes shattered and fears realised, by a succession of victories and defeats on a colossal scale, and by a sudden collapse of the enemy, may fail to see the Palestine campaign in true perspective. But in a future generation the calm judgment of the historian in reviewing the greatest of all wars will, if I mistake not, pay a great tribute to General Allenby's strategy, not only as marking the commencement of the enemy's downfall, but as preserving from the scourge of war those holy places which symbolise the example by which most people rule their lives. Britons who value the good name of their country will appreciate what this means to those who shall come after us—that the record of a great campaign carried out exclusively by British Imperial troops was unsullied by a single act to disturb the sacred monuments, and left the land in the full possession of those rich treasures which stand for the principles that guided our actions and which, if posterity observes them, will make a better and happier world.
A few months after the Turks entered the war it was obvious that unaided they could never realise the Kaiser's hope of cutting the Suez Canal communications of the British Empire. The German commitments in Europe were too overwhelming to permit of their rendering the Turks adequate support for a renewed effort against Egypt after the failure of the attack on the Canal in February 1915. There was an attempt by the Turks in August 1916, but it was crushed by Anzac horse and British infantry at Romani, a score of miles from Port Said, and thereafter the Turks in this theatre were on the defensive. Some declare the Dardanelles enterprise to have been a mistake; others believe that had we not threatened the Turks there Egypt would have had to share with us the anxieties that war brings alike upon attackers and defenders. Gallipoli and Mesopotamia, however we regard those expeditions in the first years of the struggle, undoubtedly prevented the Turks employing a large army against Egypt, and the possibilities resulting from a defeat there were so full of danger to us, not merely in that half-way house of the Empire but in India and the East generally, that if Gallipoli served to avert the disaster that ill-starred expedition was worth undertaking. We had to drive the Turks out of the Sinai Peninsula—Egyptian territory—and, that accomplished, an attack on the Turks through Palestine was imperative since the Russian collapse released a large body of Turkish troops from the Caucasus who would otherwise be employed in Mesopotamia.
[Footnote 1: The Desert Campaigns: London, Constable and Co., Ltd.]
When General Allenby took over the command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force the British public as a whole did not fully realise the importance of the Palestine campaign. Most of them regarded it as a 'side show,' and looked upon it as one of those minor fields of operations which dissipated our strength at a time when it was imperative we should concentrate to resist the German effort on the Western Front. They did not know the facts. In our far-flung Empire it was essential that we should maintain our prestige among the races we governed, some of them martial peoples who might remain faithful to the British flag only so long as we could impress them with our power to win the war. They were more influenced by a triumph in Mesopotamia, which was nearer their doors, than by a victory in France, and the occupation of Bagdad was a victory of greater import to the King's Indian subjects than the German retirement from the Hindenburg line. If there ever was a fear of serious trouble in India the advance of General Maude in Mesopotamia dispelled it, and made it easier not only to release a portion of our white garrison in India for active service elsewhere, but to recruit a large force of Indians for the Empire's work in other climes. Bagdad was a tremendous blow to German ambitions. The loss of it spelt ruin to those hopes of Eastern conquest which had prompted the German intrigues in Turkey, and it was certain that the Kaiser, so long as he believed in ultimate victory, would refuse to accept the loss of Bagdad as final. Russia's withdrawal as a belligerent released a large body of Turkish troops in the Caucasus, and set free many Germans, particularly 'technical troops' of which the Turks stood in need, for other fronts. It was then that the German High Command conceived a scheme for retaking Bagdad, and the redoubtable von Falkenhayn was sent to Constantinople charged with the preparations for the undertaking. Certain it is that it would have been put into execution but for the situation created by the presence of a large British Army in the Sinai Peninsula. A large force was collected about Aleppo for a march down the Euphrates valley, and the winter of 1917-18 would have witnessed a stern struggle for supremacy in Mesopotamia if the War Cabinet had not decided to force the Turks to accept battle where they least wanted it.
The views of the British War Cabinet on the war in the East, at any rate, were sound and solid. They concentrated on one big campaign, and, profiting from past mistakes which led to a wastage of strength, allowed all the weight they could spare to be thrown into the Egyptian Expeditionary Force under a General who had proved his high military capacity in France, and in whom all ranks had complete confidence, and they permitted the Mesopotamian and Salonika Armies to contain the enemies on their fronts while the Army in Palestine set out to crush the Turks at what proved to be their most vital point. As to whether the force available on our Mesopotamia front was capable of defeating the German scheme I cannot offer an opinion, but it is beyond all question that the conduct of operations in Palestine on a plan at once bold, resolute, and worthy of a high place in military history saved the Empire much anxiety over our position in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys, and probably prevented unrest on the frontiers of India and in India itself, where mischief makers were actively working in the German cause. Nor can there be any doubt that the brilliant campaign in Palestine prevented British and French influence declining among the Mahomedan populations of those countries' respective spheres of control in Africa. Indeed I regard it as incontrovertible that the Palestine strategy of General Allenby, even apart from his stupendous rush through Syria in the autumn of the last year of war, did as much to end the war in 1918 as the great battles on the Western Front, for if there had been failure or check in Palestine some British and French troops in France might have had to be detached to other fronts, and the Germans' effort in the Spring might have pushed their line farther towards the Channel and Paris. If Bagdad was not actually saved in Palestine, an expedition against it was certainly stopped by our Army operating on the old battlegrounds in Palestine. We lost many lives, and it cost us a vast amount of money, but the sacrifices of brave men contributed to the saving of the world from German domination; and high as the British name stood in the East as the upholder of the freedom of peoples, the fame of Britain for justice, fair dealing, and honesty is wider and more firmly established to-day because the people have seen it emerge triumphantly from a supreme test.
In the strategy of the world war we made, no doubt, many mistakes, but in Palestine the strategy was of the best, and in the working out of a far-seeing scheme, victories so influenced events that on this front began the final phase of the war—once Turkey was beaten, Bulgaria and Austria-Hungary submitted and Germany acknowledged the inevitable. Falkenhayn saw that the Bagdad undertaking was impossible so long as we were dangerous on the Palestine front, and General Allenby's attack on the Gaza line wiped the Bagdad enterprise out of the list of German ambitions. The plan of battle on the Gaza-Beersheba line resembled in miniature the ending of the war. If we take Beersheba for Turkey, Sheria and Hareira for Bulgaria and Austria, and Gaza for Germany, we get the exact progress of events in the final stage, except that Bulgaria's submission was an intelligent anticipation of the laying down of their arms by the Turks. Gaza-Beersheba was a rolling up from our right to left; so was the ending of the Hun alliance.
It was in accordance with the fitness of things that the British Army should fight and conquer on the very spots consecrated by the memories of the most famous battles of old. From Gaza onwards we made our progress by the most ancient road on earth, for this way moved commerce between the Euphrates and the Nile many centuries before the East knew West. We fought on fields which had been the battlegrounds of Egyptian and Assyrian armies, where Hittites, Ethiopians, Persians, Parthians, and Mongols poured out their blood in times when kingdoms were strong by the sword alone. The Ptolemies invaded Syria by this way, and here the Greeks put their colonising hands on the country. Alexander the Great made this his route to Egypt. Pompey marched over the Maritime Plain and inaugurated that Roman rule which lasted for centuries; till Islam made its wide irresistible sweep in the seventh century. Then the Crusaders fought and won and lost, and Napoleon's ambitions in the East were wrecked just beyond the plains.
Up the Maritime Plain we battled at Gaza, every yard of which had been contested by the armies of mighty kings in the past thirty-five centuries, at Akir, Gezer, Lydda, and around Joppa. All down the ages armies have moved in victory or flight over this plain, and General Allenby in his advance was but repeating history. And when the Turks had been driven beyond the Plain of Philistia, and the Commander-in-Chief had to decide how to take Jerusalem, we saw the British force move along precisely the same route that has been taken by armies since the time when Joshua overcame the Amorites and the day was lengthened by the sun and moon standing still till the battle was won. Geography had its influence on the strategy of to-day as completely as it did when armies were not cumbered with guns and mechanical transport. Of the few passes from the Maritime Plain over the Shephelah into the Judean range only that emerging from the green Vale of Ajalon was possible, if we were to take Jerusalem, as the great captains of old took it, from the north. The Syrians sometimes chose this road in preference to advancing through Samaria, the Romans suffered retreat on it, Richard Coeur de Lion made it the path for his approach towards the Holy City, and, precisely as in Joshua's day and as when in the first century the Romans fell victims to a tremendous Jewish onslaught, the fighting was hardest about the Beth-horons, but with a different result—the invaders were victorious. The corps which actually took Jerusalem advanced up the new road from Latron through Kuryet el Enab, identified by some as Kirjath-jearim where the Philistines returned the Ark, but that road would have been denied to us if we had not made good the ancient path from the Vale of Ajalon to Gibeon. Jerusalem was won by the fighting at the Beth-horons as surely as it was on the line of hills above the wadi Surar which the Londoners carried. There was fighting at Gibeon, at Michmas, at Beeroth, at Ai, and numerous other places made familiar to us by the Old Testament, and assuredly no army went forth to battle on more hallowed soil.
Of all the armies which earned a place in history in Palestine, General Allenby's was the greatest—the greatest in size, in equipment, in quality, in fighting power, and not even the invading armies in the romantic days of the Crusades could equal it in chivalry. It fought the strong fight with clean hands throughout, and finished without a blemish on its conduct. It was the best of all the conquering armies seen in the Holy Land as well as the greatest. Will not the influence of this Army endure? I think so. There is an awakening in Palestine, not merely of Christians and Jews, but of Moslems, too, in a less degree. During the last thirty years there have grown more signs of the deep faiths of peoples and of their veneration of this land of sacred history. If their institutions and missions could develop and shed light over Palestine even while the slothful and corrupt Turk ruled the land, how much faster and more in keeping with the sanctity of the country will the improvement be under British protection? The graves of our soldiers dotted over desert wastes and cornfields, on barren hills and in fertile valleys, ay, and on the Mount of Olives where the Saviour trod, will mark an era more truly grand and inspiring, and offer a far greater lesson to future generations than the Crusades or any other invasion down the track of time. The Army of General Allenby responded to the happy thought of the Commander-in-Chief and contributed one day's pay for the erection of a memorial near Jerusalem in honour of its heroic dead. Apart from the holy sites, no other memorial will be revered so much, and future pilgrims, to whatever faith they belong, will look upon it as a monument to men who went to battle to bring lasting peace to a land from which the Word of Peace and Goodwill went forth to mankind.
In selecting General Sir Edmund Allenby as the Palestine Army's chief the War Cabinet made a happy choice. General Sir Archibald Murray was recalled to take up an important command at home after the two unsuccessful attempts to drive the Turks from the Gaza defences. The troops at General Murray's disposal were not strong enough to take the offensive again, and it was clear there must be a long period of preparation for an attack on a large scale. General Allenby brought to the East a lengthy experience of fighting on the Western Front, where his deliberate methods of attack, notably at Arras, had given the Allies victories over the cleverest and bravest of our enemies. Palestine was likely to be a cavalry, as well as an infantry, campaign, or at any rate the theatre of war in which the mounted arm could be employed with the most fruitful of results. General Allenby's achievements as a cavalry leader in the early days of the war marked him as the one officer of high rank suited for the Palestine command, and his proved capacity as a General both in open and in trench warfare gave the Army that high degree of confidence in its Commander-in-Chief which it is so necessary that a big fighting force should possess. A tremendously hard worker himself, General Allenby expected all under him to concentrate the whole of their energies on their work. He had the faculty for getting the best out of his officers, and on his Staff were some of the most enthusiastic soldiers in the service. There was no room for an inefficient leader in any branch of the force, and the knowledge that the Commander-in-Chief valued the lives and the health of his men so highly that he would not risk a failure, kept all the staffs tuned up to concert pitch. We saw many changes, and the best men came to the top. His own vigour infected the whole command, and within a short while of arriving at the front the efficiency of the Army was considerably increased.
The Palestine G.H.Q. was probably nearer the battle front than any G.H.Q. in other theatres of operations, and when the Army had broken through and chased the enemy beyond the Jaffa-Jerusalem line, G.H.Q. was opened at Bir Salem, near Ramleh, and for several months was actually within reach of the long-range guns which the Turks possessed. The rank and file were not slow to appreciate this. They knew their Commander-in-Chief was on the spot, keeping his eye and hand on everything, organising with his organisers, planning with his operation staff, familiar with every detail of the complicated transport system, watching his supply services with the keenness of a quartermaster-general, and taking that lively interest in the medical branch which betrayed an anxious desire for the welfare and health of the men. The rank and file knew something more than this. They saw the Commander-in-Chief at the front every day. General Allenby did not rely solely on reports from his corps. He went to each section of the line himself, and before practically every major operation he saw the ground and examined the scheme for attack. There was not a part of the line he did not know, and no one will contradict me when I say that the military roads in Palestine were known by no one better than the driver of the Commander-in-Chief's car. A man of few words, General Allenby always said what he meant with soldierly directness, which made the thanks he gave a rich reward. A good piece of work brought a written or oral message of thanks, and the men were satisfied they had done well to deserve congratulations. They were proud to have the confidence of such a Chief and to deserve it, and they in their turn had such unbounded faith in the military judgment of the General and in the care he took to prevent unnecessary risk of life, that there was nothing which he sanctioned that they would not attempt. Such mutual confidence breeds strength, and it was the Commander-in-Chief's example, his tact, energy, and military genius which made his Army a potent power for Britain and a strong pillar of the Allies' cause.
Let it not be imagined that General Allenby in his victorious campaign shone only as a great soldier. He was also a great administrator. In England little was known about this part of the General's work, and owing to the difficulties of the task and to the consideration which had, and still has, to be shown to the susceptibilities of a number of friendly nations and peoples, it may be long before the full story of the administration of the occupied territory in Palestine is unfolded for general appreciation. It is a good story, worthy of Britain's record as a protector of peoples, and though from the nature of his conquest over the Turks in the Bible country the name of General Allenby will adorn the pages of history principally as a victor, it will also stand before the governments of states as setting a model for a wise, prudent, considerate, even benevolent, administration of occupied enemy territory. In days when Powers driven mad by military ambition tear up treaties as scraps of paper, General Allenby observed the spirit as well as the letter of the Hague Convention, and found it possible to apply to occupied territory the principles of administration as laid down in the Manual of Military Law.
The natives marvelled at the change. In place of insecurity, extortion, bribery and corruption, levies on labour and property and all the evils of Turkish government, General Allenby gave the country behind the front line peace, justice, fair treatment of every race and creed, and a firm and equitable administration of the law. Every man's house became his castle. Taxes were readily paid, the tax gatherers were honest servants, and, none of the revenue going to keep fat pashas in luxury in Constantinople, there came a prospect of expenditure and revenue balancing after much money had been usefully spent on local government. Until the signing of peace international law provided that Turkish laws should apply. These, properly administered, as they never were by the Turks, gave a basis of good government, and, with the old abuses connected with the collection of revenue removed, and certain increased taxation and customs dues imposed by the Turks during the war discontinued, the people resumed the arts of peace and enjoyed a degree of prosperity none of them had ever anticipated. What the future government of Palestine may be is uncertain at the time of writing. There is talk of international control—we seem ever ready to lose at the conference table what a valiant sword has gained for us—but the careful and perfectly correct administration of General Allenby will save us from the criticism of many jealous foreigners. Certainly it will bear examination by any impartial investigator, but the best of all tributes that could be paid to it is that it satisfied religious communities which did not live in perfect harmony with one another and the inhabitants of a country which shelters the people of many different races.
The Yilderim undertaking, as the Bagdad scheme was described, did not meet with the full acceptance of the Turks. The 'mighty Jemal', as the Germans sneeringly called the Commander of the Syrian Army, opposed it as weakening his prospects, and even Enver, the ambitious creature and tool of Germany, postponed his approval. It would seem the taking over of the command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force by General Allenby set the Turks thinking, and made the German Military Mission in Constantinople reconsider their plans, not with a view to a complete abandonment of the proposal to advance on Bagdad, as would have been wise, but in order to see how few of the Yilderim troops they could allot to Jemal's army to make safe the Sinai front. There was an all-important meeting of Turkish Generals in the latter half of August, and Jemal stood to his guns. Von Falkenhayn could not get him to abate one item of his demands, and there can be no doubt that Falkenhayn, obsessed though he was with the importance of getting Bagdad, could see that Jemal was right. He admitted that the Yilderim operation was only practicable if it had freedom for retirement through the removal of the danger on the Palestine front. With that end in view he advocated that the British should be attacked, and suggested that two divisions and the 'Asia Corps' should be sent from Aleppo to move round our right. Jemal was in favour of defensive action; Enver procrastinated and proposed sending one division to strengthen the IVth Army on the Gaza front and to proceed with the Bagdad preparations. The wait-and-see policy prevailed, but long before we exerted our full strength Bagdad was out of the danger zone. General Allenby's force was so disposed that any suggestion of the Yilderim operation being put into execution was ruled out of consideration.
Several documents captured at Yilderim headquarters at Nazareth in September 1918, when General Allenby made his big drive through Syria, show very clearly how our Palestine operations changed the whole of the German plans, and reading between the lines one can realise how the impatience of the Germans was increasing Turkish stubbornness and creating friction and ill-feeling. The German military character brooks no opposition; the Turks like to postpone till to-morrow what should be done to-day. The latter were cocksure after their two successes at Gaza they could hold us up; the Germans believed that with an offensive against us they would hold us in check till the wet season arrived.
[Footnote 1: See Appendices I., II., and III.]
Down to the south the Turks had to bring their divisions. Their line of communications was very bad. There was a railway from Aleppo through Rayak to Damascus, and onwards through Deraa (on the Hedjaz line) to Afule, Messudieh, Tul Keram, Ramleh, Junction Station to Beit Hanun, on the Gaza sector, and through Et Tineh to Beersheba. Rolling stock was short and fuel was scarce, and the enemy had short rations. When we advanced through Syria in the autumn of 1918 our transport was nobly served by motor-lorry columns which performed marvels in getting up supplies over the worst of roads. But as we went ahead we, having command of the sea, landed stores all the way up the coast, and unless the Navy had lent its helping hand we should never have got to Aleppo before the Turk cried 'Enough.' Every ounce of the Turks' supplies had to be hauled over land. They managed to put ten infantry divisions and one cavalry division against us in the first three weeks, but they were not comparable in strength to our seven infantry divisions and three cavalry divisions. In rifle strength we outnumbered them by two to one, but if the enemy had been well led and properly rationed he, being on the defensive and having strong prepared positions, should have had the power to resist us more strongly. The Turkish divisions we attacked were: 3rd, 7th, 16th, 19th, 20th, 24th, 26th, 27th, 53rd, and 54th, and the 3rd Cavalry Division. The latter avoided battle, but all the infantry divisions had heavy casualties. That the moral of the Turkish Army was not high may be gathered from a very illuminating letter written by General Kress von Kressenstein, the G.O.C. of the Sinai front, to Yilderim headquarters on September 29, 1917.
[Footnote 1: See Appendix IV.]
The troops who won Palestine and made it happier than it had been for four centuries were exclusively soldiers of the British Empire. There was a French detachment and an Italian detachment with General Allenby's Army. The Italians for a short period held a small portion of the line in the Gaza sector, but did not advance with our force; the French detachment were solely employed as garrison troops. The French battleship Requin and two French destroyers cooperated with the ships of the Royal Navy in the bombardment of the coast. Our Army was truly representative of the Empire, and the units composing it gave an abiding example that in unity rested our strength. From over the Seven Seas the Empire's sons came to illustrate the unanimity of all the King's subjects in the prosecution of the war. English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh divisions of good men and true fought side by side with soldiers of varying Indian races and castes. Australia's valiant sons constituted many brigades of horse and, with New Zealand mounted regiments, became the most hardened campaigners in the Egyptian and Palestine theatre of operations. Their powerful support in the day of anxiety and trial, as well as in the time of triumph, will be remembered with gratitude. South Africa contributed good gunners; our dark-skinned brethren in the West Indies furnished infantry who, when the fierce summer heat made the air in the Jordan Valley like a draught from a furnace, had a bayonet charge which aroused an Anzac brigade to enthusiasm (and Colonial free men can estimate bravery at its true value). From far-away Hong Kong and Singapore came mountain gunners equal to any in the world, Kroomen sent from their homes in West Africa surf boatmen to land stores, Raratongas from the Southern Pacific vied with them in boat craft and beat them in physique, while Egypt contributed a labour corps and transport corps running a long way into six figures. The communion of the representatives of the Mother and Daughter nations on the stern field of war brought together people with the same ideals, and if there are any minor jealousies between them the brotherhood of arms will make the soldiers returning to their homes in all quarters of the globe the best of missionaries to spread the Imperial idea. Instead of wrecking the British Empire the German-made war should rebuild it on the soundest of foundations, affection, mutual trust, and common interest.
DIFFICULTIES OF THE ATTACK
General Allenby's first problem was of vital consequence. He had to pierce the Gaza line. Before his arrival there had been, as already stated, two attempts which failed. A third failure, or even a check, might have spelt disaster for us in the East. The Turks held commanding positions, which they strengthened and fortified under the direction of German engineers until their country, between the sea and Beersheba, became a chain of land works of high military value, well adapted for defence, and covering almost every line of approach. The Turk at the Dardanelles had shown no loss of that quality of doggedness in defence which characterised him in Plevna, and though we know his commanders still cherished the hope of successfully attacking us before we could attempt to crush his line, it was on his system of defence that the enemy mainly relied to break the power of the British force. On arriving in Egypt General Allenby was given an appreciation of the situation written by Lieut.-General Sir Philip Chetwode, who had commanded the Desert Column in various stages across the sands of Sinai, was responsible for forcing the Turks to evacuate El Arish, arranged the dash on Magdaba by General Sir Harry Chauvel's mounted troops, and fought the brilliant little battle of Rafa. This appreciation of the position was the work of a master military mind, taking a broad comprehensive view of the whole military situation in the East, Palestine's position in the world war, the strategical and tactical problems to be faced, and, without making any exorbitant demands for troops which would lessen the Allies' powers in other theatres, set out the minimum necessities for the Palestine force. General Allenby gave the fullest consideration to this document, and after he had made as complete an examination of the front as any Commander-in-Chief ever undertook—the General was in one or other sector with his troops almost every day for four months—General Chetwode's plan was adopted, and full credit was given to his prescience in General Allenby's despatch covering the operations up to the fall of Jerusalem.
It was General Chetwode's view at the time of writing his appreciation, that both the British and Turkish Armies were strategically on the defensive. The forces were nearly equal in numbers, though we were slightly superior in artillery, but we had no advantage sufficient to enable us to attack a well-entrenched enemy who only offered us a flank on which we could not operate owing to lack of water and the extreme difficulty of supply. General Chetwode thought it was possible the enemy might make an offensive against us—we have since learned he had such designs—but he gave weighty reasons against the Turk embarking upon a campaign conducted with a view to throwing us beyond the Egyptian frontier into the desert again. If the enemy contemplated even minor operations in the Sinai Desert he had not the means of undertaking them. We should be retiring on positions we had prepared, for, during his advance across the desert, General Chetwode had always taken the precaution of having his force dug in against the unlikely event of a Turkish attack. Every step we went back would make our supply easier, and there was no water difficulty, the pipe line, then 130 miles long, which carried the purified waters of the Nile to the amount of hundreds of thousands of gallons daily, being always available for our troops. It would be necessary for the Turks to repair the Beersheba-Auja railway. They had lifted some of the rails for use north of Gaza, and a raid we had carried out showed that we could stop this railway being put into a state of preparedness for military traffic. An attack which aimed at again threatening the Suez Canal was therefore ruled as outside the range of possibilities.
On the other hand, now that the Russian collapse had relieved the Turk of his anxieties in the Caucasus and permitted him to concentrate his attention on the Mesopotamian and Palestine fronts, what hope had he of resisting our attack when we should be in a position to launch it? The enemy had a single narrow-gauge railway line connecting with the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway at Junction Station about six miles south-east of Ramleh. This line ran to Beersheba, and there was a spur line running past Deir Sineid to Beit Hanun from which the Gaza position was supplied. There was a shortage of rolling stock and, there being no coal for the engines, whole olive orchards had been hacked down to provide fuel. The Hebron road, which could keep Beersheba supplied if the railway was cut, was in good order, but in other parts there were no roads at all, except several miles of badly metalled track from Junction Station to Julis. We could not keep many troops with such ill-conditioned communications, but Turkish soldiers require far less supplies than European troops, and the enemy had done such remarkable things in surmounting supply difficulties that he was given credit for being able to support between sixty and seventy battalions in the line and reserve, with an artillery somewhat weaker than our own.
If we made another frontal attack at Gaza we should find ourselves up against a desperately strong defensive system, but even supposing we got through it we should come to another halt in a few miles, as the enemy had selected, and in most cases had prepared, a number of positions right up to the Jaffa-Jerusalem road, where he would be in a land of comparative plenty, with his supply and transport troubles very considerably reduced. No one could doubt that the Turks intended to defend Jerusalem to the last, not only because of the moral effect its capture would have on the peoples of the world, but because its possession by us would threaten their enterprise in the Hedjaz, and the enormous amount of work we afterwards found they had done on the Judean hills proved that they were determined to do all in their power to prevent our driving them from the Holy City. The enemy, too, imagined that our progress could not exceed the rate at which our standard gauge railway could be built. Water-borne supplies were limited as to quantity, and during the winter the landing of supplies on an open beach was hazardous. In the coastal belt there were no roads, and the wide fringe of sand which has accumulated for centuries and still encroaches on the Maritime Plain can only be crossed by camels. Wells are few and yield but small volumes of water. With the transport allotted to the force in the middle of 1917 it was not possible to maintain more than one infantry division at a distance of twenty to twenty-five miles beyond railhead, and this could only be done by allotting to them all the camels and wheels of other divisions and rendering these immobile. This was insufficient to keep the enemy on the move after a tactical success, and he would have ample time to reorganise.
General Chetwode held that careful preliminary arrangements, suitable and elastic organisation of transport, the collection of material at railhead, the training of platelaying gangs provided by the troops, the utilisation of the earthwork of the enemy's line for our own railway, luck as regards the weather and the fullest use of sea transport, should enable us to give the enemy less breathing time than appeared possible on paper. It was beyond hope, however, whatever preparations were made, that we should be able to pursue at a speed approaching that which the river made possible in Mesopotamia. General Chetwode considered it would be fatal to attempt an offensive with forces which might permit us to attack and occupy the enemy's Gaza line but which would be insufficient to inflict upon him a really severe blow, and to follow up that blow with sufficient troops. No less than seven infantry divisions at full strength and three cavalry divisions would be adequate for the purpose, and they would be none too many. Further, if the Turks began to press severely in Mesopotamia, or even to revive their campaign in the Hedjaz, a premature offensive might be necessitated on our part in Palestine.
The suggestion made by General Chetwode for General Allenby's consideration was that the enemy should be led to believe we intended to attack him in front of Gaza, and that we should pin him down to his defences in the centre, while the real attack should begin on Beersheba and continue at Hareira and Sheria, and so force the enemy by manoeuvre to abandon Gaza. That plan General Allenby adopted after seeing all the ground, and the events of the last day of October and the first week of November supported General Chetwode's predictions to the letter. Indeed it would be hard to find a parallel in history for such another complete and absolute justification of a plan drawn up several months previously, and it is doubtful if, supposing the Turks had succeeded in doing what their German advisers advocated, namely forestalling our blow by a vigorous attack on our positions, there would have been any material alteration in the working out of the scheme. The staff work of General Headquarters and of the staffs of the three corps proved wholly sound. Each department gave of its best, and from the moment when Beersheba was taken in a day and we secured its water supply, there was never a doubt that the enemy could be kept on the move until we got into the rough rocky hills about Jerusalem. And by that time, as events proved, his moral had had such a tremendous shaking that he never again made the most of his many opportunities.
The soundness of the plan can quite easily be made apparent to the unmilitary eye. Yet the Turk was absolutely deceived as to General Allenby's intentions. If it be conceded that to deceive the enemy is one of the greatest accomplishments in the soldier's art, it must be admitted that the battle of Gaza showed General Allenby's consummate generalship, just as it was proved again, and perhaps to an even greater extent, in the wonderful days of September 1918, in Northern Palestine and Syria. A glance at the map of the Gaza-Beersheba line and the country immediately behind it will show that if a successful attack were delivered against Gaza the enemy could withdraw his whole line to a second and supporting position where we should have to begin afresh upon an almost similar operation. The Turk would still have his water and would be slightly nearer his supplies.
Since the two unsuccessful attacks in March and April, Gaza had been put into a powerful state of defence. The houses of the town are mostly on a ridge, and enclosing the place is a mass of gardens fully a mile deep, each surrounded by high cactus hedges affording complete cover and quite impossible for infantry to penetrate. To reduce Gaza would require a prolonged artillery bombardment with far more batteries than General Allenby could ever expect to have at his command, and it is certain that not only would the line in front of the town have had to be taken, but also the whole of the western end of the Turks' trench system for a length of at least 12,000 yards. And, as has been said, with Gaza secured we should still have had to face the enemy in a new line of positions about the wadi Hesi. Gaza was the Turks' strongest point. To attack here would have meant a long-drawn-out artillery duel, infantry would have had to advance over open ground under complete observation, and, while making a frontal attack, would have been exposed to enfilade fire from the 'Tank' system of works to the south-east. It would have proved a costly operation, its success could only have been partial in that it did not follow that we should break the enemy's line, and it would not have enabled us to contain the remainder of the Turkish force.
Nor would an attack on the centre have promised more favourably. Here the enemy had all the best of the ground. At Atawineh, Sausage Ridge, Hareira, and Teiaha there were defences supporting each other on high ground overlooking an almost flat plain through which the wadi Ghuzze runs. All the observation was in enemy possession, and to attack over this ground would have been inviting disaster. There was little fear that the Turks would attack us across this wide range of No Man's Land, for we held secure control of the curiously shaped heaps of broken earth about Shellal, and the conical hill at Fara gave an uninterrupted view for several miles northward and eastward. The position was very different about Beersheba. If we secured that place with its water supply, and in this dry country the battle really amounted to a fight for water, we should be attacking from high ground and against positions which had not been prepared on so formidable a scale as elsewhere, with the prospect of compelling the enemy to abandon the remainder of the line for fear of being enveloped by mounted troops moving behind his weakened left. That, in brief outline, was the gist of General Chetwode's report, and with its full acceptance began the preparations for the advance. These preparations took several months to complete, and they were as thorough as the energy of a capable staff could make them.
TRAINING THE ARMY
Those of us who were fortunate enough to witness the nature of the preparations for the first of General Allenby's great and triumphant moves in Palestine can speak of the debt Britain and her Allies owe not merely to the Commander-in-Chief and his Headquarters Staff, but to the three Corps Commanders, the Divisional Commanders, the Brigadiers, and the officers responsible for transport, artillery, engineer, and the other services. The Army had to be put on an altogether different footing from that which had twice failed to drive the Turks from Gaza. It serves nothing to ignore the fact that the moral of the troops was not high in the weeks following the second failure. They had to be tuned up and trained for a big task. They knew the Turk was turning his natural advantages of ground about Gaza into a veritable fortress, and that if their next effort was to meet with more success than their last, they had to learn all that experience on the Western Front had taught as to systems of trench warfare.
And, more than that, they had to prepare to apply the art of open warfare to the full extent of their powers.
A couple of months before General Allenby took over command, General Chetwode had taken in hand the question of training, and in employing the knowledge gained during the strenuous days he had spent in France and Flanders, he not only won the confidence of the troops but improved their tone, and by degrees brought them up to something approaching the level of the best fighting divisions of our Army in France.
This was hard work during hot weather when our trench systems on a wide front had to be prepared against an active enemy, and men could ill be spared for the all-important task of training behind the front line. It was not long, however, before troops who had got into that state of lassitude which is engendered by a belief that they were settling down to trench warfare for the duration of the war—that, in fact, there was a stalemate on this front—became inspired by the energy of General Chetwode. They saw him in the front line almost every day, facing the risks they ran themselves, complimenting them on any good piece of work, suggesting improvements in their defences, always anxious to provide anything possible for their comfort, and generally looking after the rank and file with a detailed attention which no good battalion commander could exceed.
The men knew that the long visits General Chetwode paid them formed but a small part of his daily task. It has been said that a G.O.C. of a force has to think one hour a day about operations and five hours about beef. In East Force, as this part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force was then called, General Chetwode, having to look months ahead, had also six worrying hours a day to think about water. For any one who did not love his profession, or who had not an ardent soldierly spirit within him, such a daily task would have been impossible. I had the privilege of living in General Chetwode's camp for some time, and I have seen him working at four o'clock in the morning and at nine o'clock at night, and the notes on a writing tablet by the side of his rough camp-bed showed that in the hours when sleep forsook him he was planning the next day's work.
His staff was entirely composed of hard workers, and perhaps no command in this war ever had so small a staff, but there was no officer in East Force who laboured so long or with such concentration and energy and determination as its Chief. This enthusiasm was infectious and spread through all ranks. The sick rate declined, septic sores, from which many men suffered through rough life in the desert on Army rations, got better, and the men showed more interest in their work and were keener on their sport. The full effects had not been wholly realised when the War Cabinet selected General Allenby for the control of the big operations, but the improvement in the condition of the troops was already most marked, and when General Allenby arrived and at once directed that General Headquarters should be moved from Cairo, which was pleasant but very far away from the front, to Kelab, near Khan Yunus, there was not a man who did not see in the new order of things a sign that he was to be given a chance of testing the Briton's supremacy over the Turk.
The improvement in the moral of the troops, the foundations of which were thus begun and cemented by General Chetwode, was rapidly carried on under the new Chief. Divisions like the 52nd, 53rd, and 54th, which had worked right across the desert from the Suez Canal, toiling in a torrid temperature, when parched throats, sun-blistered limbs, and septic sores were a heavy trial, weakened by casualties in action and sickness, were brought up to something like strength. Reinforcing drafts joined a lot of cheery veterans. They were taught in the stern field of experience what was expected of them, and they worked themselves up to the degree of efficiency of the older men.
The 74th Division, made up of yeomanry regiments which had been doing excellent service in the Libyan Desert, watching for and harassing the elements of the Senussi Army, had to be trained as infantry. These yeomen did not take long to make themselves first-rate infantry, and when, after the German attack on the Somme in March 1918, they went away from us to strengthen the Western Front, a distinguished General told me he believed that man for man the 74th would prove the finest division in France. They certainly proved themselves in Palestine, and many an old yeomanry regiment won for itself the right to bear 'Jerusalem, 1917' on its standard.
The 75th Division had brought some of the Wessex Territorials from India with two battalions of Gurkhas and two of Rifles. The 1/4th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry joined it from Aden, but for some months the battalion was not itself. It had spent a long time at that dreary sunburnt outpost of the Empire, and the men did not regain their physical fitness till close upon the time it was required for the Gaza operations.
The 60th Division came over from Salonika and we were delighted to have them, for they not only gave us General Bulfin as the XXIst Corps Commander, but set an example of efficiency and a combination of dash and doggedness which earned for them a record worthy of the best in the history of the great war. These London Territorials were second-line men, men recruited from volunteers in the early days of the war, when the County of London Territorial battalions went across to France to take a part on a front hard pressed by German legions. The 60th Division men had rushed forward to do their duty before the Derby scheme or conscription sought out the cream of Britain's manhood, and no one had any misgivings about that fine cheery crowd.
The 10th Division likewise came from Salonika. Unfortunately it had been doing duty in a fever-stricken area and malaria had weakened its ranks. A little while before the autumn operations began, as many as 3000 of its men were down at one time with malaria, but care and tonic of the battle pulled the ranks together, and the Irish Division, a purely Irish division, campaigned up to the glorious traditions of their race. They worked like gluttons with rifle and spade, and their pioneer work on roads in the Judean hills will always be remembered with gratitude.
The cavalry of the Desert Mounted Corps were old campaigners in the East. The Anzac Mounted Division, composed of six regiments of Australian Light Horse and three regiments of New Zealand Mounted Rifles, had been operating in the Sinai Desert when they were not winning fame on Gallipoli, since the early days of the war. They had proved sterling soldiers in the desert war, hard, full of courage, capable of making light of the longest trek in waterless stretches of country, and mobile to a degree the Turks never dreamed of. There were six other regiments of Australian Light Horse and three first-line regiments of yeomanry in the Australian Mounted Division, and nine yeomanry regiments in the Yeomanry Mounted Division. The 7th Mounted Brigade was attached to Desert Corps, as was also the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade, formed of yeomen and Australians who had volunteered from their regiments for work as camelry. They, too, were veterans.
All these divisions had to be trained hard. Not only had the four infantry divisions of XXth Corps to be brought to a pitch of physical fitness to enable them to endure a considerable period of open fighting, but they had to be trained in water abstinence, as, in the event of success, they would unquestionably have long marches in a country yielding a quite inadequate supply of drinking water, and this problem in itself was such that fully 6000 camels were required to carry drinking water to infantry alone. Water-abstinence training lasted three weeks, and the maximum of half a gallon a man for all purposes was not exceeded, simply because the men had been made accustomed to deny themselves drink except when absolutely necessary. But for a systematic training they would have suffered a great deal. The disposition of the force is given in the Appendix.
[Footnote 1: See Appendix v].
RAILWAYS, ROADS, AND THE BASE
To ease the supply problem a spur line was laid from Rafa to Shellal, on the wadi Ghuzze. In that way supplies, stores, and ammunition were taken up to our right flank. Shellal was a position of great strategic importance. At one time it appeared as if we should have to fight hard to gain it. The Turks had cut an elaborate series of trenches on Wali Sheikh Nuran, a hill covering Shellal, but they evacuated this position before we made the first attack on Gaza, and left an invaluable water supply in our hands.
At Shellal the stony bed of the wadi Ghuzze rests between high mud banks which have been cut into fantastic shapes by the rushing waters descending from the southern extremities of the Judean range of hills during the winter rains. In the summer months, when the remainder of the wadi bed is dry, there are bubbling springs of good water at Shellal, and these have probably been continuously flowing for many centuries, for close above the spot where the water issues Anzac cavalry discovered a beautiful remnant of the mosaic flooring of an ancient Christian church, which, raised on a hundred-feet mound, was doubtless the centre of a colony of Christians, hundreds of years before Crusaders were attracted to the Holy Land. Our engineers harnessed that precious flow. A dam was put across the wadi bed and at least a million gallons of crystal water were held up by it, whilst the overflow went into shallow pools fringed with grass (a delightfully refreshing sight in that arid country) from which horses were watered. Pumping sets were installed at the reservoir and pipes were laid towards Karm, and from these the Camel Transport Corps were to fill fanatis—eight to twelve gallon tanks—for carriage of water to troops on the move.
The railway staff, the department which arranged the making up and running of trains, as well as the construction staff, had heavy responsibilities. It was recognised early in 1917 that if we were to crush the Turk out of the war, provision would have to be made for a larger army than a single line from the Suez Canal could feed. It was decided to double the track. The difficulties of the Director of Railway Transport were enormous. There was great shortage of railway material all over the world. Some very valuable cargoes were lost through enemy action at sea, and we had to call for more from different centres, and England deprived herself of rolling stock she badly needed, to enable her flag of freedom to be carried (though it was not to be hoisted) through the Holy Land. And incidentally I may remark that, with the solitary exception of a dirty little piece of Red Ensign I saw flying in the native quarter in Jerusalem, the only British flag the people saw in Palestine and Syria was a miniature Union Jack carried on the Commander-in-Chief's motor car and by his standard-bearer when riding. Thus did the British Army play the game, for some of the Allied susceptibilities might have been wounded if the people had been told (though indeed they knew it) that they were under the protection of the British flag. They had the most convincing evidence, however, that they were under the staunch protection of the British Army. The doubling of the railway track went on apace. To save pressure at the Alexandria docks and on the Egyptian State railway, which, giving some of its rolling stock and, I think, the whole of its reserve of material for the use of the military line east of the Canal, was worked to its utmost capacity, and also to economise money by saving railway freights, wharves were built on the Canal at Kantara, and as many as six ocean-going steamers could be unloaded there at one time. By and by a railway bridge was thrown over the Canal, and when the war was over through trains could be run from Cairo to Jerusalem and Haifa. Kantara grew into a wonderful town with several miles of Canal frontage, huge railway sidings and workshops, enormous stores of rations for man and horse, medical supplies, ordnance and ammunition dumps, etc. Probably the enemy knew all about this vast base. Any one on any ship passing through the Canal could see the place, and it is surprising, and it certainly points to a lack of enterprise on the part of the Germans, that no attempt was made to bomb Kantara by the super-Zeppelin which in November 1917 left its Balkan base and got as far south as the region of Khartoum on its way to East Africa, before being recalled by wireless. This same Zeppelin was seen about forty miles from Port Said and a visit by it was anticipated. Aeroplanes with experienced pilots and armed with the latest anti-Zeppelin devices were stationed at Port Said and Aboukir ready to ascend on any moonlight night when the hum of aerial motor machinery could be heard. The super-Zeppelin never came and Kantara's progress was unchecked.
The doubled railway track was laid as far as El Arish by the time operations commenced, and this was a great aid to the railway staff. Every engine and truck was used to its fullest capacity, and an enormous amount of time was saved by the abolition of passing stations for some ninety miles of the line's length. Railhead was at Deir el Belah, about eight miles short of Gaza, and here troops and an army of Egyptian labourers were working night and day, week in week out, off-loading trucks with a speed that enabled the maximum amount of service to be got out of rolling stock. There were large depots down the line too. At Rafa there was a big store of ammunition, and at Shellal large quantities not only of supplies but of railway material were piled up in readiness for pushing out railhead immediately the advance began. A Decauville, or light, line ran out towards Gamli from Shellal to make the supply system easier, and I remember seeing some Indian pioneers lay about three miles of light railway with astonishing rapidity the day after we took Beersheba. Every mile the line advanced meant time saved in getting up supplies, and the radius of action of lorries, horse, and camel transport was considerably increased.
To supply the Gaza front we called in aid a small system of light railways. From the railhead at Deir el Belah to the mouth of the wadi Ghuzze, and from that point along the line of the wadi to various places behind the line held by us, we had a total length of 21 kilometres of light railway. Before this railway got into full operation horses had begun to lose condition, and during the summer ammunition-column officers became very anxious about their horses. The light railway was almost everywhere within range of the enemy's guns, and in some places it was unavoidably exposed, particularly where it ran on the banks of the wadi due south of Gaza. I recollect while the track was being laid speaking to an Australian in charge of a gang of natives preparing an earthwork, and asked why it was that a trench was dug before earth was piled up. He pointed to the hill of Ali Muntar, the most prominent feature in the enemy's system, and said that from the Turks' observation post on that eminence every movement of the labourers could be seen, and the men were often forced by gunfire to the refuge of the trenches.
When the railway was in running order trains had to run the gauntlet of shell-fire on this section on bright moonlight nights, and no camouflage could hide them. But they worked through in a marvellously orderly and efficient fashion, and on one day when our guns were hungry this little line carried 850 tons of ammunition to the batteries. The horses became fit and strong and were ready for the war to be carried into open country. In christening their tiny puffing locomotives the Tommy drivers showed their strong appreciation of their comrades on the sea, and the 'Iron Duke' and 'Lion' were always tuned up to haul a maximum load. But the pride of the engine yard was the 'Jerusalem Cuckoo'—some prophetic eye must have seen its future employment on the light line between Jerusalem and Ramallah—though in popularity it was run close by the 'Bulfin-ch,' a play upon the name of the Commander of the XXIst Corps, for which it did sterling service.
The Navy formed part of the picture as well. Some small steamers of 1000 to 1500 tons burden came up from Port Said to a little cove north of Belah to lighten the railway's task. They anchored about 150 yards off shore and a crowd of boats passed backwards and forwards with stores. These were carried up the beach to trucks on a line connected with the supply depots, and if you wished to see a busy scene where slackers had no place the Belah beach gave it you. The Army tried all sorts of boatmen and labourers. There were Kroo boys who found the Mediterranean waters a comparative calm after the turbulent surf on their own West African shore. The Maltese were not a success. The Egyptians were, both here and almost everywhere else where their services were called for. The best of all the fellows on this beach, however, were the Raratongas from the Cook Islands, the islands from which the Maoris originally came. They were first employed at El Arish, where they made it a point of honour to get a job done well and quickly, and, on a given day, it was found that thirty of them had done as much labourers' work as 170 British soldiers. They were men of fine physical strength and endurance, and some one who knew they had the instincts of sportsmen, devised a simple plan to get the best out of them. He presented a small flag to be won each day by the crew accomplishing the best work with the boats. The result was amazing. Every minute the boats were afloat the Raratongas strained their muscles to win the day's competition, and when the day's task was ended the victorious crew marched with their flag to their camp, singing a weird song and as proud as champions. Some Raratongas worked at ammunition dumps, and it was the boast of most of them that they could carry four 60-pounder shells at a time. A few of these stalwart men from Southern Seas received a promotion which made them the most envied men of their race—they became loading numbers in heavy howitzer batteries, fighting side by side with the Motherland gunners.
However well the Navy and all associated with it worked, only a very small proportion of the Army's supplies was water borne. The great bulk had to be carried by rail. Enormously long trains, most of them hauled by London and South-Western locomotives, bore munitions, food for men and animals, water, equipment, medical comforts, guns, wagons, caterpillar tractors, motor cars, and other paraphernalia required for the largest army which had ever operated about the town of Gaza in the thousands of years of its history. The main line had thrown out from it great tentacles embracing in their iron clasp vital centres for the supply of our front, and over these spur lines the trains ran with the regularity of British main-line expresses. Besides 96,000 actual fighting men, there was a vast army of men behind the line, and there were over 100,000 animals to be fed. There were 46,000 horses, 40,000 camels, 15,000 mules, and 3500 donkeys on Army work east of the Canal, and not a man or beast went short of rations. We used to think Kitchener's advance on Khartoum the perfection of military organisation. Beside the Palestine expedition that Soudan campaign fades into insignificance. In fighting men and labour corps, in animals and the machinery of war, this Army was vastly larger and more important, and the method by which it was brought to Palestine and was supplied, and the low sick rate, constitute a tribute to the master minds of the organisers. The Army had fresh meat, bread, and vegetables in a country which under the lash of war yielded nothing, but which under our rule in peace will furnish three times the produce of the best of past years of plenty.
A not inconsiderable portion of the front line was supplied with Nile water taken from a canal nearly two hundred miles away. But the Army once at the front depended less upon the waters of that Father of Rivers than it had to do in the long trek across the desert. Then all drinking water came from the Nile. It flowed down the sweet-water canal (if one may be pardoned for calling 'sweet' a volume of water so charged with vegetable matter and bacteria that it was harmful for white men even to wash in it), was filtered and siphoned under the Suez Canal at Kantara, where it was chlorinated, and passed through a big pipe line and pumped through in stages into Palestine. The engineers set about improving all local resources over a wide stretch of country which used to be regarded as waterless in summer. Many water levels were tapped, and there was a fair yield. The engineers' greatest task in moving with the Army during the advance was always the provision of a water supply, and in developing it they conferred on the natives a boon which should make them be remembered with gratitude for many generations.
In the months preceding our attack Royal Engineers were also concerned in improving the means of communication between railway depots and the front line. Before our arrival in this part of Southern Palestine, wheeled traffic was almost unknown among the natives. There was not one metalled roadway, and only comparatively light loads could be transported in wheeled vehicles. The soil between Khan Yunus and Deir el Belah, especially on the west of our railway line, was very sandy, and after the winter rains had knitted it together it began to crumble under the sun's heat, and it soon cut up badly when two or three limbers had passed over it. The sandy earth was also a great nuisance in the region between Khan Yunus and Shellal, but between Deir el Belah and our Gaza front, excepting on the belt near the sea which was composed of hillocks of sand precisely similar to the Sinai Desert, the earth was firmer and yielded less to the grinding action of wheels. For ordinary heavy military traffic the engineers made good going by taking off about one foot of the top soil and banking it on either side of the road. These tracks lasted very well, but they required constant attention. Ambulances and light motor cars had special arrangements made for them. Hundreds of miles of wire netting were laid on sand in all directions, and these wire roads, which, stretching across bright golden sand, appeared like black bands to observers in aircraft, at first aroused much curiosity among enemy airmen, and it was not until they had made out an ambulance convoy on the move that they realised the purpose of the tracks.
The rabbit wire roads were a remarkable success. Motor wheels held firmly to the surface, and when the roads were in good condition cars could travel at high speed. Three or four widths of wire netting were laced together, laid on the sand and pegged down. After a time loose pockets of sand could not resist the weight of wheels and there became many holes beneath the wire, and the jolting was a sore trial alike to springs and to a passenger's temper. But here again constant attention kept the roads in order, and if one could not describe travelling over them as easy and comfortable they were at least sure, and one could be certain of getting to a destination at an average speed of twelve miles an hour. In sand the Ford cars have performed wonderful feats, but remarkable as was the record of that cheap American car with us—it helped us very considerably to win the war—you could never tell within hours how long a journey would take off the wire roads. Once leave the netting and you might with good luck and a skilful driver get across the sand without much trouble, but it often meant much bottom-gear work and a hot engine, and not infrequently the digging out of wheels. The drivers used to try to keep to the tracks made by other cars. These were never straight, and the swing from side to side reminded you of your first ride on a camel's back. The wire roads were a great help to us, and the officer who first thought out the idea received our daily blessings. I do not know who he was, but I was told the wire road scheme was the outcome of a device suggested by a medical officer at Romani in 1916, when infantry could not march much more than six miles a day through the sand. This officer made a sort of wire moccasin which he attached to the boot and doubled the marching powers of the soldier. A sample of those moccasins should find a place in our War Museum.
PREPARING FOR 'ZERO DAY'
About the middle of August it was the intention that the attack on the Turks' front line in Southern Palestine should be launched some time in September. General Allenby knew his force would not be then at full strength, but what was happening at other points in the Turkish theatres of operations might make it necessary to strike an early blow at Gaza to spoil enemy plans elsewhere. However, it was soon seen that a September advance was not absolutely necessary. General Allenby decided that instead of making an early attack it would be far more profitable to wait until his Army had been improved by a longer period of training, and until he had got his artillery, particularly some of his heavy batteries, into a high state of efficiency. He would risk having to take Jerusalem after bad weather had set in rather than be unable, owing to the condition of his troops, to exploit an initial success to the fullest extent. How wholly justified was this decision the subsequent fighting proved, and it is doubtful if there was ever a more complete illustration of the wisdom of those directing war policy at home submitting to the cool, balanced calculations of the man on the spot. The extra six weeks spent in training and preparation were of incalculable service to the Allies. I have heard it said that a September victory in Palestine would have had its reflex on the Italian front, and that the Caporetto disaster would not have assumed the gigantic proportions which necessitated the withdrawal to Italy of British and French divisions from the Western Front and prevented Cambrai being a big victory. That is very doubtful. On the contrary, a September battle in Palestine before we were fully ready to follow the Turks after breaking and rolling up their line, even if we had succeeded in doing this completely, might have deprived us of the moral effect of the capture of Jerusalem and of the wonderful influence which that victory had on the whole civilised world by reason of the sacrifices the Commander-in-Chief made to prevent any fighting at all in the precincts of the Holy City. Of this I shall speak later, giving the fullest details at my command, for there is no page in the story of British arms which better upholds the honour and chivalry of the soldier than the preservation of the Holy Place from the clash of battle.
That last six weeks of preparation were unforgettable. The London newspapers I had the honour to represent as War Correspondent knew operations were about to begin, but I did not cable or mail them one word which would give an indication that big things were afoot. They never asked for news, but were content to wait till they could tell the public that victory was ours. In accordance with their practice throughout the war the London Press set an example to the world by refraining from publishing anything which would give information of the slightest value to the enemy. It was a privilege to see that victory in the making. Some divisions which had allotted to them the hardest part of the attack on Beersheba were drawn out of the line, and forming up in big camps between Belah and Shellal set about a course of training such as athletes undergo. They had long marches in the sand carrying packs and equipment. They were put on a short allowance of water, except for washing purposes. They dug, they had bombing practice, and with all this extra exercise while the days were still very hot they needed no encouragement to continue their games. Football was their favourite sport, and the British Tommy is such a remarkable fellow that it was usual to see him trudge home to camp looking 'fed up' with exercise, and then, after throwing off his pack and tunic, run out to kick a ball. The Italian and French detachments used to look at him in astonishment, and doubtless they thought his enthusiasm for sport was a sore trial. He got thoroughly fit for marches over sand, over stony ground, over shifting shingle. During the period of concentration he had to cross a district desperately bad for marching, and it is more than probable the enemy never believed him capable of such endurance. He was often tired, no doubt, but he always got to his destination, was rarely footsore, and laughed at the worst parts of his journey. The sand was choking, the flies were an irritating pest, equipment became painfully heavy; but a big, brave heart carried Tommy through his training to a state of perfect condition for the heavy test.
To enable about two-thirds of the force to carry on a moving battle while the remainder kept half the enemy pinned down to his trench system on his right-centre and right, it was necessary to reinforce strongly the transport service for our mobile columns. The XXIst Corps gave up most of its lorries, tractors, and camels to XXth Corps. These had to be moved across from the Gaza sector to our right as secretly as possible, and they were not brought up to load at the supply depots at Shellal and about Karm until the moment they were required to carry supplies for the corps moving to attack.
It is not easy to convey to any one who has not seen an army on the move what a vast amount of transport is required to provision two corps. In France, where roads are numerous and in comparatively good condition, the supply problem could be worked out to a nicety, but in a roadless country where there was not a sound half-mile of track, and where water had to be developed and every gallon was precious, the question of supply needed most anxious consideration, and a big margin had to be allowed for contingencies. It will give some idea of the requirements when I state that for the supply of water alone the XXth Corps had allotted to it 6000 camels and 73 lorries. To feed these water camels alone needed a big convoy.
We got an impression of the might and majesty of an army in the field as we saw it preparing to take the offensive. The camp of General Headquarters where I was located was situated north of Rafa. The railway ran on two sides of the camping ground, one line going to Belah and the other stretching out to Shellal, where everything was in readiness to extend the iron road to the north-east of Karm, on the plain which, because the Turks enjoyed complete observation over it, had hitherto been No Man's Land. We saw and heard the traffic on this section of the line. It was enormous. Heavily laden trains ran night and day with a mass of stores and supplies, with motor lorries, cars, and tractors; and the ever-increasing volume of traffic told those of us who knew nothing of the date of 'Zero day' that it was not far off. The heaviest trains seemed to run at night, and the returning empty trains were hurried forward at a speed suggesting the urgency of clearing the line for a fully loaded train awaiting at Rafa the signal to proceed with its valuable load to railhead. Perfect control not only on the railway system but in the forward supply yards prevented congestion, and when a train arrived at its destination and was split up into several parts, well-drilled gangs of troops and Egyptian labourers were allotted to each truck, and whether a lorry or a tractor had to be unshipped and moved down a ramp, or a truck had to be relieved of its ten tons of tibbin, boxes of biscuit and bully, or of engineers' stores, the goods were cleared away from the vicinity of the line with a celerity which a goods-yard foreman at home would have applauded as the smartest work he had ever seen. There was no room for slackers in the Army, and the value of each truck was so high that it could not be left standing idle for an hour. The organisation was equally good at Kantara, where the loading and making up of trains had to be arranged precisely as the needs at the front demanded. Those remarkable haulers, the caterpillar tractors, cut many a passage through the sand, tugging heavy guns and ammunition, stores for the air and signal services, machinery for engineers and mobile workshops, and sometimes towing a weighty load of petrol to satisfy their voracious appetites for that fuel. The tractors did well. Sand was no trouble to them, and when mud marooned lorries during the advance in November the rattling, rumbling old tractor made fair weather of it. The mechanical transport trains will not forget the service of the tractors on the morning after Beersheba was taken. From railhead to the spot where Father Abraham and his people fed their flocks the country was bare and the earth's crust had yielded all its strength under the influence of the summer sun. Loaded lorries under their own power could not move more than a few yards before they were several inches deep in the sandy soil, but a Motor Transport officer devised a plan for beating down a track which all lorries could use. He got a tractor to haul six unladen lorries, and with all the vehicles using their own power the tractor managed to pull them through to Beersheba, leaving behind some wheel tracks with a hard foundation. A hundred lorries followed, the drivers steering them in the ruts, and they made such good progress that by the afternoon they had deposited between 200 and 300 tons of supplies in Beersheba. The path the tractor cut did not last very long, but it was sound enough for the immediate and pressing requirements of the Army.
Within a month of his arrival in Egypt, General Allenby had visited the whole of his front line and had decided the form his offensive should take. As soon as his force had been made up to seven infantry divisions and the Desert Mounted Corps, and they had been brought up to strength and trained, he would attack, making his main offensive against the enemy's left flank while conducting operations vigorously and on an extensive scale against the Turkish right-centre and right. The principal operation against the left was to be conducted by General Chetwode's XXth Corps, consisting of four infantry divisions and the Imperial Camel Brigade, and by General Chauvel's Desert Mounted Corps. General Bulfin's XXIst Corps was to operate against Gaza and the Turkish right-centre south-east of that ancient town. If the situation became such as to make it necessary to take the offensive before the force had been brought up to strength, the XXIst Corps would have had to undertake its task with only two divisions, but in those circumstances its operations were to be limited to demonstrations and raids. By throwing forward his right, the XXIst Corps Commander was to pin the enemy down in the Atawineh district, and on the left he would move against the south-western defences of Gaza so as to lead the Turks to suppose an attack was to come in this sector. That movement being made, the XXth Corps and Desert Mounted Corps were to advance against Beersheba, and, having taken it, to secure the valuable water supply which was known to have existed there since Abraham dug the well of the oath which gave its name to the town. Because of water difficulties it was considered vital that Beersheba should be captured in one day, a formidable undertaking owing to the situation of the town, the high entrenched hills around it and the long marches for cavalry and infantry before the attack; and in drawing up the scheme based on the Commander-in-Chief's plan, the commanders of XXth Corps and Desert Mounted Corps had always to work on the assumption that Beersheba would be in their hands by nightfall of the first day of the attack. General Barrow's Yeomanry Mounted Division was to remain at Shellal in the gap between XXth Corps and XXIst Corps in case the enemy should attempt to attack the XXth Corps' left flank. Having dealt with the enemy in Beersheba, General Chetwode with mounted troops protecting his right was to move north and north-west against the enemy's left flank, to drive him from his strong positions at Sheria and Hareira, enveloping his left flank and striking it obliquely.