Classic History Books


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

had begun. The spells of fine weather were getting shorter, and after each period of rain the sodden state
of the country affected all movement. To bring up supplies we could only rely on road traffic from Gaza

and Deir Sineid, and the light soil had become hopelessly cut up during the rains. The main line of

railway was not to be opened to Mejdel till December 8, and the captured Turkish line between Deir

Sineid and Junction Station had a maximum capacity of one hundred tons of ordnance stores a day, and

these had to be moved forward again by road. An advance must slow down while communications were

improved. The XXth Corps inherited from the XXIst Corps the track between Beit Likia and Biddu

which had been prepared with an infinity of trouble and exertion, but this and the main Latron-Jerusalem

road were the only highways available.

General Chetwode's Corps relieved General Bulfin's Corps during the day of November 28, and viewed
in the most favourable light it appeared that there must be at least one week's work on the roads before it

would be possible for heavy and field batteries, in sufficient strength to support an attack, to be got into

the mountains. A new road was begun between Latron and Beit Likia, and another from Enab to

Kubeibeh, and these, even in a rough state of completion, eased the situation very considerably. An

enormous amount of labour was devoted to the main road. The surface was in bad order and was getting

worse every hour with the passage of lorry traffic. It became full of holes, and the available metal in the

neighbourhood was a friable limestone which, under heavy pressure during rains, was ground into the

consistency of a thick cream. Pioneer battalions were reinforced by large parties of Egyptian labour

corps, and these worked ceaselessly, clearing off top layers of mud, carrying stones down from the hills

and breaking them, putting on a new surface and repairing the decayed walls which held up the road in

many places. The roadmakers proved splendid fellows. They put a vast amount of energy into their work,

but when the roads were improved rain gravely interfered with traffic, and camels were found to be most

unsatisfactory. They slipped and fell and no reliance could be placed on a camel convoy getting to its

destination in the hills. Two thousand donkeys were pressed into service, and with them the troops in the

distant positions were kept supplied. It would not be possible to exaggerate the value of this donkey

transport. In anticipation of the advance the Quartermaster-General's department, with the foresight

which characterised that department and all its branches throughout the campaign, searched Egypt for the

proper stamp of asses for pack transport in the hills. The Egyptian donkey is a big fellow with a

light-grey coat, capable of carrying a substantial load, hardy, generally docile, and less stubborn than

most of the species. He is much taller and heavier than the Palestine donkey, and our Army never

submitted him to the atrociously heavy loads which crush and break the spirit of the local Arabs' animals.

It is, perhaps, too much to hope that the natives will learn something from the British soldier's treatment

of animals. It was one of the sights of the campaign to see the donkey trains at work. They carried

supplies which, having been brought by the military railway from the Suez Canal to railhead, were

conveyed by motor lorries as far as the state of the road permitted self-propelled vehicles to run, were

next transhipped into limbers, and, when horse transport could proceed no farther, were stowed on to the

backs of camels. The condition of the road presently held up the camels, and then donkey trains took

over the loads. Under a white officer you would see a chain of some two hundred donkeys, each roped in

file of four, led by an Egyptian who knew all that was worth knowing about the ways of the ass, winding

their way up and down hills, getting a foothold on rocks where no other animal but a goat could stand,

and surmounting all obstacles with a patient endurance which every soldier admired. They did not like

the cold, and the rain made them look deplorably wretched, but they got rations and drinking-water right

up to the crags where our infantry were practising mountaineering. Shell-fire did not disturb them much,

and they would nibble at any rank stuff growing on the hillsides to supplement the rations which did not

always reach their lines at regular intervals. The Gyppy boys were excellent leaders, and to them and the

 

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