Classic History Books

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

Beersheba a suitable base for an attack on the Suez Canal, and the manner of improving the Hebron road,
of setting road engineers to construct zigzags up hills so that lorries could move over the road, was part

of the plan of men whose vision was centred on cutting the Suez Canal artery of the British Empire's

body. The best laid schemes....

When I entered Beersheba our troops held a line of outposts sufficiently far north of the town to prevent
the Turks shelling it, and the place was secure except from aircraft bombs, of which a number fell into

the town without damaging anything of much consequence. Some of the troops fell victims to booby

traps. Apparently harmless whisky bottles exploded when attempts were made to draw the corks, and

several small mines went up. Besides the mines in the Mosque there was a good deal of wiring about the

railway station, and some rolling stock was made ready for destruction the instant a door was opened.

The ruse was expected; some Australian engineers drew the charges, and the coaches were afterwards of

considerable service to the supply branch.



Meanwhile there were important happenings at the other end of the line. Gaza was about to submit to the
biggest of all her ordeals. She had been a bone of contention for thousands of years. The Pharaohs

coveted her and more than 3500 years ago made bloody strife within the environs of the town. Alexander

the Great besieged her, and Persians and Arabians opposed that mighty general. The Ptolemies and the

Antiochi for centuries fought for Gaza, whose inhabitants had a greater taste for the mart than for the

sword, and when the Maccabees were carrying a victorious war through Philistia, the people of Gaza

bought off Jonathan, but the Jews occupied the city itself about a century before the Christian era. Later

on the place was captured after a year's siege and destroyed, and for long it remained a mass of

mouldering ruins. Pompey revived it, making it a free city, and Gabinius extended it close to the harbour,

whilst under Caesar and Herod its prosperity and fame increased. In succeeding centuries Gaza's

commerce flourished under the Greeks, who founded schools famous for rhetoric and philosophy, till the

Mahomedan wave swept over the land in the first half of the seventh century, when the town became a

shadow of its former self, though it continued to exist as a centre for trade. The Crusaders made their

influence felt, and many are the traces of their period in this ancient city, but Askalon always had more

Crusader support. Napoleon's attack on Gaza found Abdallah's army in a very different state of

preparedness from von Kress's Turkish army. Nearly all Abdallah's artillery was left behind in a gun park

at Jaffa owing to lack of transport, and though he had a numerically superior force he did not like

Napoleon's dispositions, and retreated when Kleber moved up the plain to pass between Gaza and the

sea, and the cavalry advanced east of the Mound of Hebron, or Ali Muntar, as we know the hill up which

Samson is reputed to have carried the gates and bar of Gaza. For nearly a century and a quarter since

Napoleon passed forwards and backwards through the town, Gaza pursued the arts of peace in the

lethargic spirit which suits the native temperament, but in eight months of 1917 it was the cockpit of

strife in the Middle East, and there was often crammed into one day as much fighting energy as was

shown in all the battles of the past thirty-five centuries, Napoleon's campaign included.

Fortunately after the battles of March and April nearly all the civilian population left the town for quieter
quarters. Some of them on returning must have had difficulty in identifying their homes. In the centre of

the town, where bazaars radiated from the quarter of which the Great Mosque was the hub, the houses

were a mass of stones and rubble, and the narrow streets and tortuous byways were filled with fallen

walls and roofs. The Great Mosque had entirely lost its beauty. We had shelled it because its minaret, one

of those delicately fashioned spires which, seen from a distance, lead a traveller to imagine a native town


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