By Mark Robinson
Edmund Allenby, Field Marshall General of the British forces that captured Jerusalem in 1917, was thrust into history through the events surrounding the surrender of Jerusalem – four times. The story is told by Major Vivian Gilbert of the British Army, eyewitness to most of the events, in his book “The Romance of the Last Crusade: With Allenby to Jerusalem.” Much of what follows is extracted from the chapter The Surrender of Jerusalem.1
“It was at this moment that the Lifta cock crew and the great idea came to the major, second in command of one of the regiments stationed in Jerusalem. Lifta had fallen into British hands the night before and the inhabitants, who were quite friendly, had not been dispossessed. A cordon of troops was thrown around the village, however, as a precautionary measure. If there was a cockerel in Lifta, there were probably hens, too. If hens—why not eggs?
His mouth watered in anticipation and then another thought came! Hundreds of officers and thousands of men were in the immediate vicinity of the captured village. Just suppose only a small percentage of these should have heard the cock crow and a still smaller have had the same idea as himself? Why, in less than an hour’s time there would not be a solitary egg, or for the matter of that, a hen left in the place. ‘Wake the officers’ cook, tell him to get his rifle and report to me immediately,’ commanded the major. Shortly afterwards Private Murch stood before the major.
He hardly gave the impression of a smart British soldier; his tunic was so covered with grease and filth it looked black instead of khaki colour. The toe-cap of one boot was missing, exposing to view a very red big toe, framed in a ragged grey woollen sock. Private Murch had not shaved recently and a heavy stubble covered his chin. Slung over his right shoulder was a rifle, protruding from the muzzle of which peeped a screwed-up piece of oily rag.
‘Take that rag out of your rifle and listen to me. You know the village we captured last night? I want you to go there right away and buy some eggs, as many as possible; get them from the villagers. Here are sixty piastres, be as quick as possible, but don’t come back without the eggs!’
Private Murch grumbled gently to himself as he set off in the direction of Lifta.
‘Ello! What was that?’
The end of the road, previously deserted, was now covered by a large crowd advancing from the shelter of the houses. It was still some distance away, but a carriage drawn by a pair of horses could be seen leading the procession. Murch got up and strolled towards them. He was quite mystified as to the meaning of this strange performance. He could see that many of the people, there were women and children amongst them, carried white flags and handkerchiefs, and these they continually waved before them; perhaps it was a native funeral, thought the army cook. At length they espied him, and, with loud cries and clapping of hands, crowded round, all talking at once. They were in a wild state of excitement, and for a moment, Private Murch thought of flight. Then he decided he would hold his ground; after all, he was a British soldier, whereas these villagers were only a lot of ‘blawsted natives’; there was nothing to fear.
At the height of all this excitement, a gentleman in a white night shirt, Hussein Salim al-Husseini, the mayor of Jerusalem, shouted loudly, ‘Allah Akbar,’ and seizing the cook in both arms endeavoured to kiss him. ‘You are British soldier, are not you?’ he asked in a high falsetto voice. ‘I should say so,’ replied Private Murch.
‘Where is General Allah Nebi?’ now enquired the man in the red fez.
‘Anged if I know, mister,’ answered the private.
‘I want to surrender the city please. Ere are ze keys; it is yours!’ went on the stranger, producing a large bunch of keys and waving them before the bewildered Britisher, who now began to think he had fallen amongst lunatics.
‘I don’t want yer city. I want some heggs for my hofficers!’ yelled the disgusted cook.
I [Major Gilbert] happened to be at battalion headquarters when Private Murch, hot and out of breath, arrived. ‘Where have you been for the last four hours?’ demanded the colonel in a freezing tone. The perspiring private proceeded to relate his amazing adventures in a rich cockney dialect.
When the man came to the end of his story, the colonel turned to us and said quietly, ‘Gentlemen, Jerusalem has fallen!’ Then he seized a field telephone, rang up the brigadier, and acquainted him with the startling news. Brigadier-General Watson was wildly excited — he was the nearest general to the Holy City and to him would fall the honour of accepting the surrender: his name would be flashed to every corner of the globe. ‘Where’s my horse?’ he shouted. In a few minutes he was galloping madly up the Jaffa-Jerusalem road followed by an orderly on a mule.
He met the mayor of Jerusalem at the Jaffe Gate and together they rode through the streets of Jerusalem until they came to the El Kala citadel. On the steps at the base of the Tower of David the mayor surrendered the Holy City and handed over the keys.
In the meantime, however…the brigade major rang up the divisional commander and informed him of what was taking place. Major-General Shea got on the field telephone and said, ‘Stop the brigadier, I will myself take the surrender of Jerusalem!’ It was, of course, too late to stop the brigadier then: he was already in Jerusalem. So when he got back, flushed with success, the brigade major told him what the divisional general had said. Brigadier-General Watson decided the only thing to do was to ride back to the city and hand the keys back to the mayor, who was informed that Major-General Shea was now on his way to see him.
With the arrival of the divisional commander, the mayor came out, made another little speech, surrendered Jerusalem again, and handed over the keys once again. Major-General Shea made a tactful speech that was loudly cheered by the crowds in the streets; and then, amidst the clapping of hands and welcoming cries of the populace motored back to his headquarters on the Mount of Grapes.
His first duty on returning was to send a telegram to the commander-in-chief, worded as follows, ‘I have the honor to report that I have this day accepted the surrender of Jerusalem.’ By return came the message: ‘General Allenby will himself accept the surrender of Jerusalem on the 11th inst.; make all arrangements.’
On December 11th General Allenby made his formal entry into Jerusalem. The mayor came out on to the steps of the Tower of David, surrendered the city and handed over to the commander-in-chief the keys which had been returned to him by the divisional general the previous afternoon.”
Major Gilbert adds to this story in his next chapter “When Prophecies Come True.”
“There is a very interesting prophecy with regard to the capture of Jerusalem. It is an Arab saying and is over two hundred years old. It reads, ‘When the Nile flows into Palestine, then shall the prophet from the west drive the Turk from Jerusalem.’ When this prophecy was made it must have seemed an utter impossibility that the waters of the River Nile should ever flow over two hundred miles of arid desert into Palestine.
But the pipe line we laid across the peninsula of Sinai brought the Nile water from Kantara; and just before the capture of Jerusalem, this water from Egypt was being pumped into Palestine, north of Gaza, at the rate of thousands of gallons a day. Fanatis were filled with it, placed on the backs of camels and taken up to the troops in the line fighting for Jerusalem. Then, ‘the prophet,’ in Arabic is Al Nebi, and General Allenby was known as Al Nebi by practically the entire native population. So that this ancient prophecy was fulfilled to the letter; the waters of the Nile flowed into Palestine, and the prophet, Al Nebi, came from the west and drove the Turk from Jerusalem. Chapter XII of the Book of Daniel says: ’Blessed is he that waiteth and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days.’ The year 1335 of the Hegira is the year 1917 of the Christian era, the year in which Jerusalem was freed.”
Jeremiah 31:7-8 says: “For thus saith the LORD; Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations: publish ye, praise ye, and say, O LORD, save thy people, the remnant of Israel. Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither.”
The events around the Balfour Declaration and the capture of Jerusalem, perhaps, was God’s “shout among the nations” that His final plans for the re-gathering of the Jews into a re-established Israel was now begun. The officers of the British army recognized the importance of the capture of Jerusalem at this time. We should as well.