A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: A conqueror shows his respect for the holy city

When Jerusalem surrendered to the British, General Edmund Allenby stage-managed his triumph perfectly

“Today, I entered Jerusalem, on foot…” Edmund Allenby wrote home to his wife Mabel on 11 December 1917.  “We entered at the Jaffa Gate;  and, from the steps of the Citadel, hard by, issued a proclamation in many languages to the assembled multitude.  Great enthusiasm – real or feigned – was shown.  Then I received the notables and heads of all the churches…After this, we reformed our procession and returned to our horses, which we had left outside the walls.”  How typical of General Allenby that his rather humdrum letter home should include an allusion both to the Bible he carried with him on campaign — the “multitudes” of Jerusalem — and to the old soldier’s suspicion that their enthusiasm was not to be trusted.  His official report, remarkably similar, left out these little revelations.

"What an idol the man was to us," T.E. Lawrence would later say of Allenby.  British intelligence officer Richard Meinertzhagen – an anti-semite later converted to Zionism by the brilliant anthropologist and spy Aaron Aaronsohn – was to go much further.  “It would be a short but awkward step in this superstitious country to translate Allenby into a Messiah,” he wrote in his diary, “but he is much too worldly, genuine and free of all such pretensions to willingly assume such a cloak.”  But of course, it was Allenby’s step – quite literally, on foot – into Jerusalem, that was intended to capture the imagination.

Allenby, of course, had the Messiah much on his mind, along with Kaiser Wilhelm — who had himself famously visited Jerusalem 19 years earlier, a spiritual imperialist who rode into the city on horseback after a gap was specially cut into the ancient wall for him beside the Jaffa Gate.  “Cook’s Crusader,” Punch called him.  Allenby was all humility —  being humble is a British speciality when they have strategic plans for someone else’s country – and wished to honour the three great religions associated with Jerusalem.  Allenby was neither particularly pro-Arab nor pro-Zionist, although he may have known that Kaiser Wilhelm II did receive that greatest of Zionists, Theodor Herzl, in his encampment of 30 white tents directly before the entrance to the city of Jerusalem, in 1898 at the very spot where the Romans had camped before destroying the Jewish Temple.

The photographs and film footage show Allenby, a rather remote, short figure, marching briskly into Jerusalem.  A less familiar, more pensive camera shot, taken by the US military attaché, has him standing outside the Jaffa Gate, staring pensively at some Indian troops, slightly anxious, before his entry.  And then of course, we see him on the steps above the ‘multitudes’ as his famous victory proclamation is read in English, Arabic, Hebrew, French, Italian, Greek and Russian.  Religious respect was the theme.  “…every sacred building, monument, Holy spot, shrine, traditional site, endowment, pious bequest, or customary place of prayer…will be maintained and protected according to the existing customs and beliefs of those to whose faiths they are sacred.”

The script had been sent from London days earlier.  Allenby might have written something more classical.  He was a scholar of antiquity and must have known that he was the 34th conqueror of Jerusalem.  One of his biographers was to list his predecessors, among them David, Nebuchadnezzer, Alexander, Antiochus the Great, Judas Maccabeus, Pompey, Herod, Titus, Omar, Godfrey de Bouillon and Saladin.  Lesser figures stood close to Allenby at the reading of the proclamation;  staff officers, T. E . Lawrence (there by chance), a clutch of intelligence men and the abominable Francois Georges-Picot (of Sykes-Picot infamy).

The real surrender of Jerusalem, of course, had occurred three days earlier and in infinitely British confusion when the Turkish Mayor of Jerusalem, Hussein Salim al-Husseini approached a series of British soldiers with a white flag;  two were lost cooks from the 2/20th London Regiment who declined the honour.  Then al-Husseini offered the keys of the city to Sergeants Frederick Hurcomb and James Sedgewick of the 2/19th London Regiment.  The best picture to come from the whole epic of Allenby’s entry into Jerusalem’s shows the two indomitable Brits, pith helmets on their heads, puttees on their feet, Lee Enfield rifles –over Harcomb’s shoulder and in Sedgewick’s right hand – both covered head to foot in dust and sand, among a group of Ottoman and Arab notables.  Eventually, Allenby’s 60th Division commander took the keys.

Allenby walks into Jerusalem: Sergeants James Sedgwick and Frederick Hurcomb of 2/19th Battalion, London Regiment, outside the city two days earlier Allenby walks into Jerusalem: Sergeants James Sedgwick and Frederick Hurcomb of 2/19th Battalion, London Regiment, outside the city two days earlier If Allenby remained aloof from organised religion, his prime minister did not.  Lloyd George fantasised upon the Biblical drama played out in Palestine, telling colleagues he wanted Jerusalem for Christmas.  He got it, referring in his memoirs to “the capture by British troops of the most famous city in the world which had for centuries baffled the efforts of Christendom to regain possession of its sacred shrines.”  British censors could not stop the war magazines talking of Allenby’s “crusade” in Palestine.  Allenby was a history man who had studied the 12th century failure of Richard Coeur de Lion to reach Jerusalem.  But he had also read Herodotus and Hogarth’s ‘Ancient East’.  He wanted to succeed where the great men of the past had failed.

And he did succeed, beyond the dreams of the chiefs of staff in London.  His soldiers, having launched their offensive in Beersheba, swept through Jerusalem and Nablus and battled their way to Damascus and victory and the ultimate betrayal of the Arabs and the beginning of the end of the Ottoman Empire.  And Allenby, the ‘Bull’ as he was called, was a braver man than many of those who knew him at his moment of triumph realised.

For less than six months earlier, his only son, 20-year old Michael Allenby, was killed on the Western Front after a piece of German shell smashed through his helmet.  Michael had been a Socialist, defended conscientious objectors, read the Manchester Guardian and died within five hours, buried not far from the Belgian coast at Nieuport.  Ever the soldier, Allenby wrote privately of Michael with both sentiment and courage.  “…he always kissed me when we met and parted – as he did when a child.  Michael achieved, early, what every great man in the world’s history has made it his life’s ambition to attain – to die honoured, loved and successful…”  The Sherrif Husain, who launched the Arab Revolt for independence – and whose aspirations would so soon be crushed by Allenby himself – sent a personal letter of condolence.

The '100 Moments' already published can be seen at: independent.co.uk/greatwar

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style

Between the 25-27th of July, Earls Courts’ gloomy interior was doused in shades of bubblegum and parma violets as it played host to Hyper Japan, the venue’s annual celebration of anime, art, Kawaii street fashion and everything that encompasses the term J-culture. Bursting with Japanese pop culture and infused with Asian street food Hyper Japan is an invigorating culture shock that brings cosplayers, creatives and gamers like myself from across the globe.

Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
News
scienceScientists try to explain the moon's funny shape
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable)

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable...

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star