A little after midnight on 7th December, we left Kustal and started moving up to our assault positions. The first objective was to be rushed at dawn. In most atrocious weather – high winds and heavy rain – we set off over the roughest country on the approach to our main obstacle, which was the Wadi Surar. This ran straight across our front and was about a thousand feet deep, with sides almost perpendicular. On the far crest was first Liver Redoubt and then Heart Redoubt and the capture of these two redoubts was the task entrusted to the Battalion.
Some weeks later when I saw this wadi in daylight, it was difficult to believe that on a pitch black night we had climbed down to the bottom and then up again on the other side – but the most amazing thing is that pack-mules were led down to the bottom and then up again. Anyone who sees the Wadi Surar may be forgiven for doubting this story of the mules, for if I had not seen it done, I would doubt it myself.
Although the leading companies were heavily machine-gunned at about 0300 hours and again shortly before five o’clock, it does not seem that the Turk can have known we were closing in on him. The night was so stormy that he probably thought it impossible an attack could come under such conditions. He hadn’t heard Noel Coward’s “Mad dogs and Englishmen” or, if he had, he was right in thinking not even a mad dog would be out on such a night.
One short burst of machine-gun, about 0400 hours, caught the Battalion Headquarters party and among those killed was the Adjutant, Lieut Willis. Some years later, Colonel Norton told me a strange story of this incident. It seems that, during the evening of the 7th, Colonel Norton noticed that Willis seemed unusually quiet and depressed. Knowing Willis to be a deeply religious man (in what we used to call “real life”, he was editor of one of the Catholic papers – The Universe or Catholic Herald), Colonel Norton said – “Cheer up Willis, by this time tomorrow, you’ll be in Jerusalem”. There was nothing the Colonel could say, which had any effect. Willis knew with certainty that “his number had come up”. Probably many of us know of similar instances of such fore-knowledge, which later events proved true – and it must be said also, of similar premonitions which later proved groundless.
The first objective of the Battalion was Liver Redoubt and this was in our hands by 0545 hours. This was the essential preliminary for the assault on Heart Redoubt and, about thirty minutes later, we had got that too. We gathered in seven prisoners at Liver Redoubt and, at Heart Redoubt, five officers and something over fifty other ranks.
The 180th Brigade was the left brigade of the Division, with 179th Brigade on the right and 181st as Divisional Reserve. The 180th attacked, with three battalions in line – ourselves on the left, the 2/17th in the centre, the 2/19th on the right and the 2/20th Battalion in Brigade Reserve.
On the face of it, it looked as if we had the toughest assignment with both Liver and Heart Redoubts (and I think Heart Redoubt was the most vital objective on the front of the Division), but the strongest resistance was met by the 2/19th Battalion in clearing the approaches to the village of Deir Yasin, and having accomplished this, they needed help from the 2/20th Battalion to clear the village.
When this was done, the whole Brigade was employed in the next and final effort, which put the crown of success on the battle. This was a bayonet charge (which I have always regarded as the greatest of all idiocies in modern war) and was completely successful. It finished the battle on the divisional front.
Although the Turk had no shortage of machine guns at this point, there was fortunately no barbed-wires in front of them. It is the combination of these two which, it seemed to me, had made the bayonet rather less effective than the bow and arrow.
The Brigadier’s official account of this final episode in the battle for Jerusalem reads:
“Three and a half companies of the 2/19th Battalion were to make a frontal attack, with two companies of 2/17th and one and a half companies of 2/18th Companies working round the left flank and one company 2/20th battalion working round the right flank. The charge was made at 0545 hours under cover of the fire of the 2/18th and 2/20th Battalions and the overhead fire of the guns of the 180th Machine Gun Company. One section Howitzers also assisted. In spite of very heavy machine gun and rifle fire and shrapnel, the ridge was carried in magnificent style under the eyes of the Corps and Divisional Commanders, who have signified their high appreciation. The enemy hastily retired towards Jerusalem. The right flank of the Brigade was somewhat exposed, owing to the deep ravine, which separated it from the left of the 179th Brigade. A second company of the 2/20th Battalion was sent as a reserve to the 2/19th Battalion which had sent their last two platoons to the exposed right flank.”
Reverting for a moment to Heart Redoubt. About two hours after its capture, some 200 Turks were seen retiring down a wadi from the village of Beit Iksa under pressure from our neighbours, the 74th Division. It was thought that if they were allowed to proceed until well out into the open, when all Lewis Guns opened up from Heart Redoubt – and there was 200 very surprised Turk, who clearly did not know of the fall of Heart Redoubt. Firing continued for some little time until a white flag appeared and we collected five Officers and about 50 Other Ranks. However, the Battalion regarded these as the 74th Division’s “birds” as they flushed them out and set them up for us.
The advance of the 180th Brigade during the day had opened up a vast area on our left and the whole of the Divisional Reserve, 181st Brigade, was required to cover this.
At this point, it seemed there was nothing between us and the city, but the Division was ordered to halt as guns could not get forward due to the mud, complete absence of roads and impassable tracks – also the Division, which was coming up the Hebron/Jerusalem Road from the south was some miles away instead of being a strong support on our right. Actually, instead of being with us at Jerusalem, they were still about two miles south of Bethlehem.
In any case, in order to avoid fighting in the Holy City, the plan called for us to halt at about the position we had reached and to swing all the strength we could spare into a drive left of the road leaving the city from its northern exit – the road to Nablus, Nazareth and Damascus. The division coming up from the south would have swung its strength to the right to cut across the road leaving the city towards the east – to Jericho, the Jordan Valley and Amman. Had this been done, men on foot could still have left the city to the north-east between the road north and the raid east, but no wheeled traffic could have got away – guns for instance. But it was not to be.
This trap closed about 1000 hours on the 9th, but the Turk had withdrawn from the city during the night. The Mayor of Jerusalem was in contact with patrols of 180 Brigade about 0830 on the 9th and it was from him that we learnt of the Turk withdrawal. Brig-Gen Watson, accompanied by Colonel Bailey, commanding the Brigade Artillery, rode into the city with the Mayor and a few other civic dignitaries in order to – in the official phrase – reassure the populace. Hence, these two became the first of our army to reach the Jaffa Gate – regarded as the city centre. Some twenty years later, I traced the Brigadier and got him to sign it – and provided him with two copies of this photograph, which he did not know existed.
General Sir Edmund HH Allenby, the Commander in Chief, made his formal entry two days later, 11th December, and this Proclamation was exhibited in prominent places all over the city.
“To the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Blessed and the people dwelling in its vicinity.
“The defeat inflicted upon the Turks by the troops under my command has resulted in the occupation of your City by my forces. I therefore here and now proclaim it to be under Martial Law, under which administration it will remain so long as military considerations make it necessary.
“However, lest any of you should be alarmed by reason of you experiences at the hands of the enemy who has retired. I hereby inform you that it is my desire that every person should pursue his lawful business without fear of interruption.
Furthermore, since your city is regarded with affection by adherents of three of the great religions of mankind and its soil has been consecrated by the prayers and pilgrimages of devout people of those three religions for many centuries, therefore do I make known to you that every sacred building, monument, holy spot, shrine traditional site, endowment, pious bequest or customary place of prayer, of whatsoever form of the three religions, will be maintained and protected according to the existing customs and beliefs of those to whose faiths they are sacred.”
This proclamation was displayed in English, French, Italian, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek and Russian.
The capture of Jerusalem was, of course, of intense interested all over the World and brought congratulatory cables and Special Orders of the Day.
It is sad, but true, that it is not the toughness of the battle, or the brilliance of its planning and execution which focus attention – but the extent to which the result is noteworthy. “Jerusalem” was certainly news; and the following was circulated.
A telegram on the 9th from the Corps Commander, Lieut Gen Sir Philip Chetwoode, to the Divisional Commander reads:
“It is a fitting regard for the splendid work of your gallant Division since the commencement to operations that the honour of receiving the surrender of Jerusalem should have fallen to them. My heartiest congratulations and thanks to you and them.”
The Divisional Commander telegraphed Brig-Gen Watson the same day:
“I consider that your gallant charge yesterday afternoon made Jerusalem ours.”
The Brigadier addressed the following to “All Ranks of the 180th Infantry Brigade”:
“It gives me intense pride and pleasure to circulate the Divisional Commander’s telegram” and then proceeds – “I want to thank all ranks of my Brigade for their gallant conduct during the last phase of operations. The capture of Jerusalem is an appropriate conclusion to your efforts.”
In his official account, the Brigadier wrote:
“The cooperation between the various units of the Brigade has been most marked and has very materially contributed to the success of the operations.
“I cannot speak too highly of the determination and endurance of all ranks over extremely difficult country and under very severe climatic conditions. For three nights in succession few men had any sleep. A great deal is due to the administrative personnel of the Brigade in bringing up rations and water.”
SPECIAL ORDER OF THE DAY.
By Major Gen JSM Shea CB CMG DSO, Commanding 60th Division.
“The GOC wishes to express to all Leaders, NCOs. Men, Staff and Departments, his profound admiration and thanks for their remarkable achievements.
“The enemy was always engaged with eagerness and determination; great difficulties were overcome; and weather conditions which must have caused at times intense suffering were cheerfully endured.
“History will tell of the spirit of the 60th Division, the Division to which Jerusalem was surrendered.”
12th December 1917.
SPECIAL ORDER OF THE DAY.
By Lieut Gen Sir Philip W Chetwode Bt KCMG CB DSO, Commanding 20th Corps.
“Now that the efforts of Gen Sir EHH Allenby’s Army have been crowned by the capture of Jerusalem, I wish to express to all ranks, Services and Departments of the 20th Army Corps, my personal thanks and my admiration for the soldierly qualities they have displayed. I have served as a Regimental Officer in two campaigns and no one knows better than I do what the shortness of food, the fatigue of operating among high mountains and the cold and wet has meant to the fighting troops; but in spite of it all, and at the moment when the weather was at its worse, they responded to my call and drove the enemy in one rush through his last defences and beyond Jerusalem. A fine performance and I am intensely proud of having had the honour of commanding such a body of men.
“I wish to give praise to the Divisional Ammunition Columns, Divisional Trains, ASC, Supply Services, Mechanical Transport personnel Camel Transport personnel and the Royal Army Medical Corps and all services whose continuous labour, day and night, almost without rest, alone enabled the fighting troops to do what they did.
The Corps Commander wishes the above communicated to all ranks.”
13th December 1917.
E Evans, Brigadier General DA and QMG 20th Corps.
In the course of five weeks, we had passed from one world to another. From the great heat and water scarcity of the desert we had come to days and nights of continuous rain – and now bitter cold.
This was unpleasant enough for us, who were in cotton drill shorts (not the best garment when soaking wet), but for the camels and their Egyptian drivers on whom we relied to carry almost everything, the slippery mud, wet rock and bitter cold were impossible conditions. Suddenly, we needed thousands of additional mules and donkeys. There is an old saying which runs – “you will never see two dead donkeys”; I am sorry to say we did.
The Battalion passed through the north western quarter of the city at about 1000 hours on the 9th and spent the night in a wadi near Shafat, in Brigade Reserve.
The Brigade was astride the road to the north, always called the Nablus Road. One battalion was in the village of Shafat to the left of the road and another on a strangely shaped hill called Tel el Ful to the right of the road. Tel el Ful looked like an enormous pudding basin upside down, on which giants had erected a great pyramid or inverted cone. It was to be the scene of the fiercest fighting during the next few weeks. These positions were about three miles north of the city.
During the night of the 9th, heavy rain returned and the cold became more intense, so that the Battalion was lucky to have from the 10th to the 14th resting in dry quarters in Jerusalem
It was during this time that the Mayor of Jerusalem died. He looked a sick man on the morning of the 9th. When he left Jerusalem that morning looking for the army, he found 180 Brigade, because we were the closest.
He first met two cooks of the 2/20th Battalion who, so the sorry goes, had heard a cock crow and believing that where there is a cock there will be a hen – and where there’s a hen there may well be an egg, decided to investigate.
The Mayor tried to hand over the city to them, but they were not interested. They just wanted eggs. The Mayor soon after met two sergeants of the 2/19th Battalion who, finding these dozen or so men jabbering away, laughing, shaking their hands and trying to hug them, regarded them as a pleasant bunch of harmless lunatics – and broke away.
However, a little later, the party met two officers of the Brigade Artillery who informed Brig Gen Watson and he, of course, was very interested, He and Colonel Bailey, commanding the Brigade Artillery rode into the city with the Mayor and his party.
But the Mayor wasn’t finished yet, for an hour or so later Major Gen John Shea arrived and the Mayor had to go through the motions again. Then Allenby, the Commander in Chief made his formal entry on the 11th when the whole thing was, of course, properly stage managed.
All this, in very bad weather, was too much for the poor man and he died of pneumonia – I think – on the 13th.
I have some reservation, in my mind, about the two stories of the cooks and the sergeants. I was only a few hundred yards away at the time, yet it must have been some weeks later that I first heard them. This does not necessarily mean that the stories are not true as, in war, a man often does not know what is happening fifty yards from him.
However, I think it just possible they result from a conscious effort to sustain the tradition of the Cockney as a humourist, as he undoubtedly is. But he is certainly not “dim” – and these four do not seem to have been very bright.