Classic History Books


W.T. Massey - How Jerusalem Was Won. Allenby's Campaign in Palestine

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

 

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