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

up the exposed steep slope of Nebi Samwil, not all of which, in the only direction he could select for an
advance, was terraced, as it was on the Turks' side. He was all the time confronted by heavy artillery and

rifle fire, and, though supported by guns firing at long range from the neighbourhood of Enab, he could

not make Nebi Samwil in daylight. Round the top of the hill the Turk had dug deeply into the stony earth.

He knew the value of that hill. From its crest good observation was obtained in all directions, and if,

when we had to attack the main Jerusalem defences on December 8, the summit of Nebi Samwil had still

been in Turkish hands, not a movement of troops as they issued from the bed of the wadi Surar and

climbed the rough face of the western buttresses of Jerusalem would have escaped notice. The brigade

won the hill and held it just before midnight, but the battle for the crest ebbed and flowed for days with

terrific violence, we never giving up possession of it, though it was stormed again and again by an enemy

who, it is fair to admit, displayed fine courage and not a little skill. That hill-top at this period had to

submit to a thunderous bombardment, and the Mosque of Nebi Samwil became a battered shell. Here are

supposed to lie the remains of the Prophet Samuel. The tradition may or may not be well founded, but at

any rate Mahomedans and Christians alike have held the place in veneration for centuries. The Turk paid

no regard to the sanctity of the Mosque, and, as it was of military importance to him that we should not

hold it, he shelled it daily with all his available guns, utterly destroying it. There may be cases where the

Turks will deny that they damaged a Holy Place. They could not hide their guilt on Nebi Samwil. I was

at pains to examine the Mosque and the immediate surroundings, and the photographs I took are proof

that the wreckage of this church came from artillery fired from the east and north, the direction of the

Turkish gun-pits. It is possible we are apt to be a little too sentimental about the destruction in war of a

place of worship. If a general has reason to think that a tower or minaret is being used as an observation

post, or that a church or mosque is sheltering a body of troops, there are those who hold that he is

justified in deliberately planning its destruction, but here was a sacred building with associations held in

reverence by all classes and creeds in a land where these things are counted high, and to have set about

wrecking it was a crime. The German influence over the Turk asserted itself, as it did in the heavy

fighting after we had taken Jerusalem. We had batteries on the Mount of Olives and the Turk searched

for them, but they never fired one round at the Kaiserin Augusta Victoria Hospice near by. That had been

used as Falkenhayn's headquarters. General Chetwode occupied it as his Corps Headquarters soon after

he entered Jerusalem. There was a wireless installation and the Turks could see the coming and going of

the Corps' motor cars. I have watched operations from a summer-house in the gardens, and no enemy

plane could pass over the building without discovering the purpose to which it was put. And there were

spies. But not one shell fell within the precincts of the hospice because it was a German building,

containing the statues of the Kaiser and Kaiserin, and (oh, the taste of the Hun!) with effigies of the

Kaiser and his consort painted in the roof of the chapel not far from a picture of the Saviour. Britain is

rebuilding what the Turks destroyed, and there will soon arise on Nebi Samwil a new mosque to show

Mahomedans that tolerance and freedom abide under our flag.

When the 75th Division were making the attack on Nebi Samwil the 52nd Division put all the men they
could spare on to the task of making roads. To be out of the firing line did not mean rest. In fact, as far as

physical exertion went, it was easier to be fighting than in reserve. From sunrise till dark and often later

the roadmakers were at work with pick, shovel, and crowbar, and the tools were not too many for the job.

The gunners joined in the work and managed to take their batteries over the roads long before they were

considered suitable for other wheels. The battery commanders sometimes selected firing positions which

appeared quite inaccessible to any one save a mountain climber, but the guns got there and earned much

credit for their teams.

 

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