Classic History Books


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

in the East to be arranged on an artistic and orderly plan, was used as a Turkish observation post, and the
Mosque itself as an ammunition store. I am told our guns were never laid on to this objective until there

was an accident within it which exploded the ammunition. Be that as it may, there was ample

justification for shelling the Mosque. I went in to examine the structure a few hours after the Turks had

been compelled to evacuate the town, and whilst they were then shelling it with unpleasant severity.

Amid the wrecked marble columns, the broken pulpit, the torn and twisted lamps and crumbling walls

were hundreds of thousands of rounds of small-arms ammunition, most of it destroyed by explosion. A

great shell had cut the minaret in half and had left exposed telephone wires leading direct to army

headquarters and to the Turkish gunners' fire control station. Most of the Mosque furniture and all the

carpets had been removed, but a few torn copies of the Koran, some of them in manuscript with marginal

notes, lay mixed up with German newspapers and some typical Turkish war propaganda literature. That

Mosque, which Saladin seized from the Crusaders and turned from a Christian into a Mahomedan place

of worship, was unquestionably used for military purposes, and the Turks cared as little for its religious

character or its venerable age as they did for the mosque on Nebi Samwil, where the remains of the

Prophet Samuel are supposed to rest. Their stories of the trouble taken to avoid military contact with holy

places and sites were all bunkum and eyewash. They would have fought from the walls of the Holy City

and placed machine-gun nests in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Mosque of Omar if they had

thought it would spare them the loss of Jerusalem.

Gaza had, as I have said, been turned into a fortress with a mass of field works, in places of considerable
natural strength. If our force had been on the defensive at Gaza the Germans would not have attacked

without an army of at least three times our strength. It is doubtful if the Turks put as much material in use

on Gallipoli as they did here. Their trenches were deeply cut and were protected by an immense amount

of wire. In the sand-dune area they used a vast quantity of sandbags, and they met the shortage of jute

stuffs by making small sacks of bedstead hangings and curtains which, in the dry heat of the summer,

wore very well. Looking across No Man's Land one could easily pick out a line of trenches by a red, a

vivid blue, or a saffron sandbag. The Turkish dug-outs were most elaborate places of security. The

excavators had gone down into the hard earth well beneath the deep strata of sand, and they roofed these

holes with six, eight, and sometimes ten layers of palm logs. We had seen these beautiful trees

disappearing and had guessed the reason. But an even greater protection than the devices of military

engineers had been provided for the Turks by Dame Nature. Along the southern outskirts of the town all

the fields were enclosed by giant cactus hedges, sometimes with stems as thick as a man's body and not

infrequently rearing their strong limbs and prickly leaves twenty feet above the ground. The hedges were

deep as well as high. They were at once a screen for defending troops and a barrier as impenetrable as the

walls of a fortress. If one line of cactus hedges had been cut through, infantry would have found another

and yet another to a depth of nearly two miles, and as the whole of these thorny enclosures were

commanded by a few machine guns the possibility of getting through was almost hopeless. There were

similar hedges on the eastern and western sides of Gaza, but they were not quite so deep as on the south.

On the western side, and extending south as far as the desert which the Army had crossed with such

steady, methodical, and one may also say painful progression, was a wide belt of yellow sand, sometimes

settled down hard under the weight of heavy winds, and in other places yielding to the pressure of feet.

The Turks had laboured hard in this mile and a half width of sand, right down to the sea, to protect their

right flank. There was a point about 4000 yards due west from the edge of the West Town of Gaza which

we called Sea Post. It was the western extremity of the enemy's exceedingly intricate system of defences.

The beach was below the level of the Post. From Sea Post for about 1500 yards the Turkish front line ran

to Rafa Redoubt. There were wired-in entrenchments with strong points here and there, and a series of

 

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