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

main one - and this about three miles east of Latron passes up a narrow defile with rugged mountains on
either side. There is an old Roman road to the north, but, unused for centuries, it is now a road only in

name, the very trace of it being lost in many places. In this strong country men fought of old, and the

defenders not infrequently held their own against odds. It is pre-eminently suitable for defence, and if the

warriors of the past found that flint-tipped shafts of wood would keep the invader at bay, how much more

easily could a modern army equipped with rifles of precision and machine guns adapt Nature to its

advantage? It will always be a marvel to me how in a country where one machine gun in defence could

hold up a battalion, we made such rapid progress, and how having got so deep into the range it was

possible for us to feed our front. We had no luck with the weather. In advancing over the plain the troops

had suffered from the abnormal heat, and many of the wells had been destroyed or damaged by the

retreating enemy. In the hills the troops had to endure heavy rains and piercingly cold winds, with mud a

foot deep on the roads and the earth so slippery on the hills that only donkey transport was serviceable.

Yet despite all adverse circumstances the infantry and yeomanry pressed on, and if they did not secure all

objectives, their dash, resource, and magnificent determination at least paved the way for ultimate

triumph.

To the trials of hard fighting and marching on field rations the wet added a severe test of physical
endurance. The troops were in enemy country where they scrupulously avoided every native village, and

no wall or roof stood to shelter them from wind or water. The heat of the first two weeks of November

changed with a most undesirable suddenness, and though the days continued agreeably warm on the plain

into December, the nights became chilly and then desperately cold. The single blanket carried in the pack

- most of the infantry on the march had no blanket at all - did not give sufficient warmth to men whose

blood had been thinned by long months of work under a pitiless Eastern sun, and lucky was the soldier

who secured even broken sleep in the early morning hours of that fighting march across the northern part

of the Maritime Plain. The Generals, with one eye on the enemy and the other on the weather, must have

been dismayed in the third week of November at the gathering storm clouds which in bursting flooded

the plain with rains unusually heavy for this period of the year. The surface is a very light cotton soil

several feet deep. When baked by summer sun it has a cracked hard crust giving a firm foothold for man

and horse, and yielding only slightly to the wheels of light cars; even laden lorries made easy tracks over

the country. The lorries generally kept off the ill-made unrolled Turkish road which had been constructed

for winter use and, except for slight deviations to avoid wadis and gullies cut by Nature to carry off

surplus water, the supply columns could move in almost as direct a course as the flying men. When the

heavens opened all this was altered. The first storm turned the top into a slippery, greasy mass. In an hour

or two the rain soaked down into the light earth, and any lorry driver pulling out of the line to avoid a

skidding vehicle ahead, had the almost certainty of finding his car and load come to a full stop with the

wheels held fast axle deep in the soft soil. An hour's hard digging, the fixing of planks beneath the

wheels, and a towing cable from another lorry sometimes got the machine on to the pressed-down track

again and enabled it to move ahead for a few miles, but many were the supply vehicles that had to wait

for a couple of sunny days to dry a path for them.

My own experience of the first of the winter rains was so like that of others in the force who moved on
wheels that I may give some idea of the conditions by recounting it. We had taken Ludd and Ramleh, and

guided by the ruined tower of the Church of the Forty Martyrs I had followed in the cavalry's wake. I

dallied on the way back to see if Akir presented to the latter-day Crusader any signs of its former strength

when it stood as the Philistine stronghold of Ekron. Near where the old city had been the ghastly sight of

Turks cut down by yeomanry during a hot pursuit offended the senses of sight and smell, and when you

 

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