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Hell in the Holy LandWorld War I in the Middle East$

David R. Woodward

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780813123837

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813123837.001.0001

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“Bloody Bull’s Loose”

“Bloody Bull’s Loose”

(p.81) 5 “Bloody Bull’s Loose”
Hell in the Holy Land


University Press of Kentucky

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the selection of General Sir Edmund Allenby to replace Archie Murray as commander in chief of the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF). Allenby reorganized the EEF and installation strict discipline. Despite this, he was able to earn the respect of the soldiers by making his presence felt with the rank and file. This chapter also describes Allenby's strategy of capturing Gaza with a surprise attack of Beersheba.

Keywords:   Edmund Allenby, EEF, Archie Murray, soldiers, military reorganization, discipline, Beersheba, Gaza

As the Eastern Force butted its head against the Gaza defenses in April, General Sir Edmund Allenby’s Third Army found itself in a similarly futile operation on the western front. The Battle of Arras had gotten off to a promising start with the Canadians capturing Vimy Ridge. For a moment, it appeared that a gap could be torn in the German front that could be exploited by the cavalry. This had long been Haig’s dream, and he was bitterly disappointed that Allenby, a cavalryman, could not deliver. It was not that Allenby did not make the effort. In fact, three of Allenby’s generals protested over his head to Haig that his order for relentless pursuit against intact and extremely strong defenses was reckless and did not justify the terrible losses.1

Allenby’s direction of the Battle of Arras tarnished his reputation and put his relationship with Haig in jeopardy. Smuts’s rejection of the command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF), however, gave Allenby the opportunity to achieve great things in Palestine. As noted earlier, Robertson had first considered Cavan as Murray’s successor. But when he had broached the subject in April, he suspected that Haig would be reluctant to lose his able commander of the IV Corps.2 It appears that Haig, after Allenby’s controversial leadership of the Third Army, had no similar concern for losing him to a “side show” in Palestine, a theater where the editor of the official history has acidly remarked, “all failures were consigned.”3 A more charitable conclusion is that Robertson trusted Allenby, a fellow classmate at the Staff College in 1897, and thought him the best available man for the job. Robertson perhaps did not consider him earlier as Murray’s replacement because of his vital role in the Battle of Arras.

Allenby, the son of a country gentleman, fit the image of a country squire. He had a robust constitution: he had spent his youth riding, (p.82) shooting, fishing, and sailing. He was an undistinguished public school student, twice failing the entrance examination to enter Indian Civil Service. Yet he had no difficulty getting into and graduating from Sandhurst. Although he studied with Robertson and Murray at staff College, he was more a field commander than general staff officer. Before the war, he had led and trained in turn a troop, a squadron, a regiment, a brigade, and a division.

Tall, with a strong, determined face, he appeared every inch a soldier. His dominating physical presence gave no hint of any shyness. Yet he once confided to a fellow officer that “shyness had ruined his life.” He went on to admit that that although he had “tried desperately” to overcome this shyness, he had failed. He then recalled a meeting with Sir Douglas Haig. “They were both so shy that neither of them could say one word. It was ludicrous but true and so they silently and mutually agreed never to be alone when they met.”4 His abrupt manner was perhaps an attempt to hide this shyness. James E. Edmonds, a fellow student at Staff College, concluded that “when later Allenby became a general, to our great amusement, he tried to play what he thought was the part and assumed a roughness of manner and an abruptness of speech which were not natural to him.”5 His angry outbursts and abuse of subordinates earned him the unflattering nickname “Bull.”

This was the unattractive Allenby—the martinet who once jumped a soldier in the trenches for wearing a cap instead of a steel helmet, only to discover that he was berating a corpse.6 But there was also Allenby, the humanist with an inquiring and retentive mind. He especially loved nature and was conversant with music, literature, and history. “I discovered his musical tastes,” wrote Major General Sir George de S. Barrow, the commander of the Yeomanry Mounted Division, “by hearing him humming a bit out of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Sonata during the retreat from Mons.”7 Another officer remembers him as fascinating company while traveling in a motor car in Palestine. “He would discourse on the habits of animals and birds and theorise on the mysterious life cycle of the salmon. Often he would break the thread of the discussion and speak about the biblical geography and history of the locality the car happened to be passing.”8

Allenby was truly a bundle of contradictions. Although he was often aloof and intimidating with fellow officers, he took a more personal interest in the rank and file than almost any modern British commander. He was cautious in his appreciation of the requirements for future operations, (p.83) and he was, if anything, overconfident and a risk-taker once the battle was joined. Perhaps the maxim that describes him best was one of his favorites: “Once you have taken a decision, never look back on it.”9

On June 27, Allenby arrived in Egypt to be met by Lynden-Bell at Alexandria. Not surprisingly, General Headquarters (GHQ) anxiously awaited its new commander in chief. “All sorts of stories are going round about Allenby being a big & burly man of fierce address, who prefaces all his remarks with ‘What the bloody hell,’”10 the staff officer Orlo Williams scribbled in his diary. But when Lynden-Bell returned from his first meeting with his new chief, he pretended to swing a bat and told his staff, “I’ve been playing with a pretty straight bat. The bowling isn’t so bad. He seems quite reasonable.”11

Lynden-Bell was soon gleefully reporting to the War office that Allenby “has entirely endorsed all his predecessor’s views on the situation out here.”12 This was true insofar as the EEF’s technical and manpower requirement for victory in Palestine were concerned. But Allenby brought a new style and needed energy to GHQ. “My word, he is a different man to Murray,” noted Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, an intelligence officer. “His face is strong and almost boyish. His manner is brusque almost to rudeness, but I prefer it to the oil and butter of the society soldier.”13

On his first visit to GHQ, Allenby demonstrated that he was not Murray. When a senior member of the adjutant general’s office brought him a stack of papers dealing with routine matters such as discipline and dress, he tossed them on the floor to make the point that he was not to be bothered with minor details that could be handled by junior officers. Allenby also interviewed all of the members of the staff he inherited, concluding that many of them were inexperienced.14 The result was a thoroughgoing purge that eventually included Orlo C. Williams and Lynden-Bell.

Allenby also removed many petty requirements that served no useful purpose. Brigadier General J. T. Wigan, 7th Mounted Brigade, commenting on how the new commander in chief improved the morale of all ranks, wrote: “officers visiting Cairo, even in the hot weather had to wear breeches and boots or leggings at all times, both in the day time and at night. (I only mention this trivial matter amongst others, as an example of the many irksome and unnecessary irritating regulations made both for officers and other ranks, all of which were abolished very soon after the arrival of Sir E. Allenby.)”15

(p.84) Because he believed that his place was at the front, Allenby established his headquarters near Khan Yunis in Palestine. As he told a medical officer, “You know, General Headquarters’ roots in Cairo and Ismailia are like alfalfa grass. They are getting too deep into the ground and want pulling up. Moreover, Staff officers are like partridges: they are the better for being shot over.”16 The bars and dining rooms of Shepheard’s and other first-class Cairo hotels soon reflected the GHQ’s new location. “I have never seen such an array of brass gathered together as I found in the bars and dining-rooms on the first occasion,” approvingly observed Geoffrey Inchbald, a junior officer with the Imperial Camel Corps, “nor so few as on my second visit.”17

Allenby wasted little time in making his presence felt with the rank and file. He seemed to be everywhere as he moved by car and horse up and down the line. “We were drawn up in line mounted on our camels,” Inchbald recalled, “when we saw a cloud of dust which heralded the approach of half a dozen horsemen proceeding at full gallop towards a point about a quarter of a mile to our front. Leading the posse was a gigantic man mounted on a gigantic horse, who could not possibly have been mistaken for anybody but our new commander-in-chief.”18 His troops did not always live up to his high standards, so Allenby’s unscheduled visits created apprehension. A coded message was soon devised: “BBL” for “Bloody Bull’s Loose.” Once, when Allenby noticed a semaphorist waving these letters to a neighboring unit, he inquired what they meant. The signaler weakly responded that “it referred to an agricultural mishap, ‘Bull broken loose.’” Allenby almost certainly knew better, but he did not make an issue of it.19

When Allenby returned in late July from one of his inspection tours, he received a message feared by the parents of every soldier. His only son, Michael, a subaltern with the Royal Horse Artillery on the western front, had been killed by a fragment from an artillery shell. Allenby immediately wrote his wife:

My darling sweetheart, I wish I could be with you; but I know how brave you are; and you will be strong to bear this awful blow. You and Michael fill my thoughts, and I feel very near to you both. Every remembrance of him is a joy. From his birth to his death there is not a day that you or I would have wished changed or to have been lived otherwise than he lived it. … Whenever he came to stay with me, he was always the same; a friend, on equal terms; and yet, unaffectedly, he always kissed me when we met and parted—as he did when a child.20

(p.85) This tender letter reveals a man quite different from the one presented to the world by his tough exterior and brusque manner.

Combat in Palestine was much more personal than the static trench warfare of the western front, with its millions of combatants, remote commanders, and industrialized warfare, where death frequently came from an invisible hand, delivered by long-range artillery fire on roads and camps behind the lines or from poison gas and small arms fire on a churned-up battlefield with limited visibility. The British infantry and mounted forces in Palestine, however, fought essentially a war of movement with a very visible enemy. Their war with “Johnny” Turk was as personal as it had been for British troops during the Napoleonic wars. The Tommies, no less than Wellington’s troops, needed to know their commander. Allenby fulfilled this role brilliantly; few commanders in either world war were as well known to their troops or paid closer attention to their needs when not in battle. Of course, the scale of the war in Palestine, as compared with the western front, contributed to Allenby’s extraordinary accessibility. But Murray, with the same opportunities, remained a distant commander. “There was scarcely a man in the force who did not feel that he was a matter of personal interest to the C in C and the effect was miraculous. Such a complete contrast to the previous regime,”21 opines one EEF officer on the differences between Allenby and his predecessor.

Allenby’s accessibility was clearly an important factor in creating a personal bond with his troops. But it would have meant little if a third attempt to take Gaza met the same fate as the first two. Unlike Murray, Allenby had the prospect of a substantial increase in men and equipment and a government determined to make his theater second only to the western front. “I told him in the presence of Sir William Robertson that he was to ask us for such reinforcements and supplies as he found necessary, and we would do our best to provide them,” Lloyd George wrote in his memoirs. The prime minister pointedly informed Allenby: “If you do not ask it will be your fault. If you do ask and do not get what you need it will be ours.” His mission: “Jerusalem before Christmas.”22

A fundamental strategic question for Allenby’s theater is well put by the official history: “Was there a half-way house between the Canal and Aleppo, and if so, where was it?”23 While Lloyd George sought to accelerate the campaign in Palestine during the last half of 1917, Robertson applied the brakes. Robertson’s initial position, which the War Cabinet approved, was to wait until Allenby assessed his situation before giving (p.86) him an objective. But Lloyd George expected great things from Allenby, and the new commander of the EEF found himself in the middle of a tug-of-war between the prime minister and the government’s military adviser, Robertson. This conflict over higher strategy ultimately threatened the survival of the government and led to Robertson’s dismissal.24

After touring his front and consulting with Chetwode, on July 12, Allenby, via telegram, submitted his requirements for taking Jerusalem. He put the strength of the Turkish force opposing him in southern Palestine at 46,000 rifles and 2,800 sabres. (This figure represented a serious breakdown in British intelligence because the enemy’s rifle strength was actually much less.)25 Assuming that substantial Turkish reinforcements were not sent to his front, Allenby estimated that he could conquer the Holy City with seven infantry divisions and three cavalry divisions. But he warned that he would need substantial reinforcements to advance further, and perhaps even to hold the Jaffa-Jerusalem line.

Robertson’s response to Allenby’s appreciation was prepared on July 19, 1917, at the very moment that the ministers, after agonizing debate, approved Haig’s plan to secure the Flanders coast, the so-called Pass-chendaele offensive. By default, Britain had become the mainstay of the anti-German coalition. The French Army had mutinied after Nivelle’s failed offensive, the Russians seemed finished, the Italians were wavering, and serious U.S. military assistance in Europe was at least a year away. In Asia, the British were even more dependent on their own resources to check German expansionism. Yet a greater commitment to the Palestinian theater would put additional strain on Britain’s depleted shipping, which also sustained British ventures in the Balkans and Mesopotamia. “It is for the War Cabinet to say whether the political advantages to be gained by the occupation of Jerusalem and Southern Palestine are such as to justify our undertaking at this state of the war a new and great campaign with the consequent strain on our shipping and all other resources,” Robertson succinctly informed the civilians. “It is my present opinion that the purely military advantages to be gained would not justify the expenditure of force required and the risks incurred, though I do not say that this opinion may not be modified later.”26

Turkey, which had gained some relief from Russia’s collapse, was still in a bad way. But help was on the way. Negotiations between Berlin and Constantinople resulted in the dispatch of a German force, the Asia Corps (also known as Pasha II). Its numbers, about 6,500 men, were not as important as the technical assistance it included: machine guns, artillery, mortars, aircraft, and mechanical transport. This new Turko-German (p.87) force, commanded by the former head of the German General Staff, Field Marshal von Falkenhayn, was known as the Yildirim Army Group.27 Yildirim means “lightning,” and this new force hoped to strike the British at Baghdad as if a thunderbolt from the sky. Robertson correctly dismissed as fantasy the rumors that Germany planned to send as many as 160,000 men to the Turkish theaters. Nonetheless, the Germans, and especially their technical assistance, might make things tricky for the British in the Middle East, especially for Maude, whose position at Baghdad was not as strong as Allenby’s.

The government consequently wanted Allenby to be active on his front to prevent the enemy from concentrating on Mesopotamia. On August 10, the War Cabinet instructed Allenby “to strike the Turks as hard as possible during the coming Autumn and Winter,” but they gave him no specific “geographical” objective. Robertson included a personal, private note with these instructions: “I think the Instructions will be clear to you. They simply amount to doing the best you can with what you have got; to giving the Turk as hard a knock as you can; and at the same time avoiding going too far forward and getting into a position from which you can neither advance nor go back and which might involve us in commitments which we could not properly meet having regard to other places and to our resources.”28

As the government discussed Allenby’s role, all remained quiet on the Palestinian front. After their unsuccessful offensive in April, the British did not retire from Gaza. Instead, they held their position and dug in. Conditions were brutal. “I shall never forget a scene I saw on April 25/17,” Sergeant T. B. Minshall, 10th Battalion, 231st Brigade, 74th Division, wrote. “We were working at full pressure trenching and wiring in the burning sun, the hot winds parched the men’s lips and throats until some were overcome with the heat and had to be carried to our position. To see find big strong men crying like little children for water, ‘precious water,’ was terrible.”29

In front of Gaza, the infantry built and maintained a series of trenches, separated from the Turks by distances ranging from 400 to 2,500 yards, that extended from the sea to Sheikh Abbas and a little beyond. From this point, the British front turned south and diverged from the Turkish line that ran southeast along the Gaza-Beersheba road. At one point, some nine miles separated the opposing forces. Rather than a continuous trench line, the defenses in this sector consisted of fortified strong points. The Turks had strongly fortified two areas: the central position of Sheria, and Beersheba, which anchored the southern end of (p.88) their front. The distance from fortress Gaza to Beersheba was roughly thirty miles.

Where the armies were in close touch, conditions resembled trench warfare in France. Front-line soldiers had little rest, even after dusk. At night men used the cover of darkness to repair and improve their trenches. They strung wire, widened communication trenches, buried cables, and constructed gun emplacements. Although there were no serious hostilities during this period, trenches were raided, and groups of soldiers fought each other in no-man’s-land under exploding star shells and flares. The Turkish and British artillery did most of their deadly work at night. “The bombardment around Gaza is furious of nights now, the big hills rumbling as if volcanoes were torturing their bellies. The small hills near us are all aquiver under the flashes of the guns,”30 Ion L. Idriess remarked in his diary. “The daytime was always a peaceful period in the front line. Between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M., the heat produced what the men called a ‘mirage,’ and rifle fire under such conditions was apt to be erratic,” recalled Robert H. Goodsall, a Royal Field Artillery (RFA) lieutenant attached to the 74th Division. “By a sort of natural agreement, both sides shut down the war until the hours of dusk and darkness.”31

The Turks might take a break during daylight hours, but the fleas, lice, flies, and other pests that bedeviled the soldiers did not. Captain E. Stanley Goodland of the 1/5th Somerset Light Infantry, 233rd Brigade, 75th Division, tried to explain trench conditions to his wife. “I am sitting in my dug out now and its just 2 o/c in the morning—weve been heavily shelled all night and have had no rest—I cant sleep now, for we have an epidemic of fleas & mice in these trenches,” he wrote. “Last night when I woke up to do duty I was a mass of bites and I think nowhere on my body could you have put a 5 shilling bit without touching a spot—tonight its just as bad—its a horrid war—but thank God we can laugh at our misfortunes altho all night we scratch and curse.”32

Lice were even more common than fleas. Many soldiers had brought wool underclothing with them from Britain. The War office, in its infinite wisdom, also required them to wear a flannel “spine pad” that was supposed to reduce incidents of heatstroke by protecting the spine from the sun. “In Egypt,” Marchant admits, “we found the lice made it impossible to wear these things and this also applied to a flannel body belt issued to us, which it was a crime to leave off. Crime or no they soon disappeared for good.”33 Although men put up a good fight against this invader, the lice invariably won.

(p.89) The authorities did their bit by establishing delousing stations. Private F. V. Blunt, 2/15th London Regiment (Civil Service Rifles), 179th Brigade, 60th (London) Division, provided an amusing account of his first experience of having his uniform fumigated. “A tarpaulin had been sunk in a deep hole and a shower consisting of a tin drum on the top of a wooden scaffold erected. We were all told to undress, several hundred, and put our clothes in bundles. I never saw such a display of male nakedness before,” he wrote in his pocket diary. What happened next was surely predictable. “The sight of so many varied ‘cocks’ was the subject of much amusement and ribald comment,” Blunt continued. “The tarpaulin was filled with water and water was carried to the two shower tanks. Everyone had a dirty shower and a dirty wash which was appreciated. It was the first bath of any sort we had had for many weeks. While this was going on our clothes were placed in a big portable oven and literally baked. The oven baking was expected to kill the bugs and lice with which our clothes were infested.” Unfortunately, some eggs inevitably survived this baking process, and the soldier’s body heat soon hatched them out. An itchy Blunt was soon writing in his diary, “I am smothered with lice. … Every morning and whenever there is a spare minute, everyone takes off their shirts and opens their trousers to hunt out lice. … This louse hunting is quite a part of life.”34

Flies were almost as bad. “Flies by the million pestering one whenever one stays still, flies in your drink, flies in your food, flies in your tent, flies wherever they can be most inconvenient and annoying,”35 Captain Case of the Royal Engineers wrote his family. The ubiquitous fly contributed to soldiers’ exhaustion. “It was difficult to get much sleep in the daytime owing to the heat and the swarms of flies that intruded into our blanket bivouacs,” Bernard Blaser recalled after the war. “In order to get any sleep at all it was necessary to protect completely all bare parts of the body, using the square yard of mosquito netting which was issued to cover over the head, and a towel or spare shirt over arms and knees. Even then, by so wrapping up, the heat became the more trying and sleep improbable.”36

Flies were not just an irritant; they contributed to septic sores that put soldiers out of action temporarily. The causes of septic sores were several—lack of fresh vegetables, infected water, and bites from mosquitoes—but flies perhaps played the leading role in a cut or abrasion becoming septic. As Antony Bluett of the Egyptian Camel Transport Corps wrote, “the slightest scratch turned septic. … Sand would get into the wound; if it were cleansed and covered up, the dry, healing air of the (p.90) desert had no chance; if it were left open the flies made a bivouac of it—and the result can be imagined. There were men who were never without a bandage on some part of their person for months on end, and it was a common sight to see a man going about his daily work literally swathed in bandages.”37 Allenby responded by issuing wire gauze “swatters” and ordering all soldiers, when not directly involved with the enemy, to spend fifteen minutes each day killing flies at sunset when they went to sleep. To protect their legs from abrasions and the resulting septic sores, he forced cavalrymen to wear long pants.

Scorpions also stung soldiers who slept in the open under the stars, wrapped in their blankets. “Often they were already in possession when blankets were unrolled for the night, and if not then, one was usually to be found in the morning nestling coyly in the folds,” Bluett noted. “The moment you touched him with a stick he elevated his poisonous batteringram, which was as long as himself, and struck and struck again in an ecstasy of rage, until he actually poisoned himself and died from his own blows.”38 In this strange land, the British encountered many other “creeping, crawling things,” as Blunt put it. “The land round here abounds in lizards, spiders, beetles. … saw a beautiful large spider, probably a tarantula, like beautiful coloured cotton wool, about four inches long,”39 he observed while training in the Wadi Ghazze.

Many soldiers detested the Sinai as they plowed through its soft, heavy sand and experienced storms that filled their eyes, ears, nose, and mouth with sand and pricked their skin with what felt like red-hot needles. But the fine dust they found around Gaza was even worse. In a letter home, Captain Case explained the difference. “Sand one can put up with quite easily, for altho’ unpleasant in one’s food and in one’s clothes, it is always clean and easy to shake away, but dust is absolutely filthy, it covers everything, and gets everywhere,” he wrote. “It will require all the will-power I possess to live in this filthy, vile dust fog for long, and not develop a temper like a demon.”40

Troops and horses on the move stirred up clouds of dust. “Fellows cursing and swearing everywhere,” a member of the 2/15th London Regiment (Civil Service Rifles), 179th Brigade, 60th Division, H. T. Pope, recorded in his diary. “So thick was the dust that if a person had been shaking a cork mat in one’s face it could not have been worse. It got in our nostrils and down our throats and covered every exposed portion of our bodies with thick dirt.”41 Blaser, a scout and mapper with the London Scottish, 179th Brigade, 60th Division, provided a similar description. “On we tramped, perspiring freely, the dust that rose about us (p.91) clinging to our moist faces and bare knees until we presented a most humourous spectacle.” Blaser wrote the preceding passage after the war. At the time it surely was not as funny when this “low-down, dirty-grey powder,” as he called it, covered his face with a “thick coating of mud.”42

J. O. Evans, who served in the 2/16th London Regiment (Queen’s Westminster Rifles), 179th Brigade, 60th Division, described his pitiful attempts to maintain some personal hygiene. “A hole is scooped in the sand,” he wrote his mother, “& the ground sheet spread over it & pressed down into the hollow, into this is poured about 3 pints of water, then stripping to the buff we do the best we can for ourselves, clad only in a sun helmet.”43 If no water was available for bathing, soldiers used a towel to wipe down their perspiring bodies. “After the sun has been busy for three or four weeks and everyone is mahogany-coloured, the smears unavoidably left by this process are not noticeable,”44 an artillery officer with the 2/22nd County of London Howitzer Battery, 60th Division, remembered.

A soldier’s morale was often no better than the food in his belly. The EEF’s rations were notorious for their sameness and poor quality. In the field, Tommies often had to survive for long periods on iron rations: bully or pressed beef, sometimes mixed with onions by the cooks when they made stew, and army biscuits. These army biscuits, which were similar to a dog biscuit in texture, have been defined as “a disciplinary food for ‘terriers.’ The grave of many a fine upstanding molar.”45 Some soldiers made them softer by putting them in the embers of a fire. In addition to bully beef, soldiers on the march were sometimes given a tinned mixture of meat (largely gravy) and vegetable (mostly turnips and carrots). This stew was called Maconochie after its manufacturer and was widely derided by British soldiers in all theaters. Calcutt, a private in the 2/16th London Regiment (Queen’s Westminster Rifies), 179th Brigade, 60th Division, noted an especially unpleasant characteristic of this tinned stew: “One of the features of the night marches was the frightful stink. The Maconochie stew ration gave the troops flatulence of a particularly offensive nature,” he wrote in his diary. “So we marched along in air released by hundreds of men breaking wind.”46

According to the accounts of many who served in Egypt and Palestine, tea was the fuel that powered the British Army. Soldiers at every opportunity drank tea, when they awoke (early morning tea was called “gunfire”), during a long break on the march, and when they made camp. “I have known many men in civilian life who seldom drank tea,” Blaser asserts. “Now they swear by it as a most refreshing beverage and valuable stimulant. I am one of them. It is necessary in order to appreciate (p.92) tea fully to have marched beneath a scorching sun, your back aching to breaking-point under the weight of your pack, feet burning and painful, your tongue feeling too large for your mouth, and every drop of moisture appearing to have left your creaking body.”47

When not in the field, the soldiers’ diet was improved somewhat by rice, peas, dates, porridge, jam, bread, meat, and bread pudding. “Luxuries” such as sardines, pears, chocolate, sausages, milk, café au lait, cocoa, and biscuits could be obtained at the divisional and battalion canteens, which were capitalized and administered by officers. These canteens boosted morale by supplementing the soldiers’ bare-bones army rations and also gave officers an opportunity to show concern for the men. “Rush the Canteen after dinner. We line up at 5.15 to wait till 6,” Calcutt wrote. “Sergeants come up and buy stuff when they like. … Colonel Gordon Clark comes up and wants to know what all the men are waiting for. He is told ‘Serving Sergeants, Sir.’ ‘Sergeants be blowed’ he says. ‘Serve the men.’ So the canteen opened at 5.30. Sausages, skipper sardines, chocolate, milk.”48

Soldiers also bought their beer in canteens, and Calcutt provided a graphic description of beer drinking in the desert. A long queue of some fifty yards had formed in front of the canteen. What Calcutt next observed explains why he did not join this queue.

The beer comes in barrels. In order to cope with a barrel in desert tent conditions the beer is decanted out into, of all things, a latrine bucket from where it is ladled out into the men’s mess tins. On receipt of the mess tin of beer the troops walk round and take their places at the end of the queue again. By the time they reach the head of the queue and are prepared to duck their heads to enter under the flap of the marquee they are ready to urinate into the buckets placed conveniently immediately outside the marquee. The similarity between the beer with a head on it inside the marquee and contents of the buckets outside would be too much for quite a number of people including me.49

With his troops settling into trench warfare, Allenby expressed concern. Through Lynden-Bell, he informed Chetwode, who had replaced Dobell as the commander of the Eastern Force, “In the present phase of the operations it is only too easy, even for units in the front line, to become over-obsessed with trench methods, and in the case of troops temporarily further back their danger is even greater, and it is therefore of the greatest importance to keep them all fit and ready, by constant training and plenty of marching, for the more active conditions which we all look forward to seeing before long.”50

(p.93) The trenches were initially manned by the infantry who had been engaged in 2nd Gaza, the 52nd, 53rd, 54th, and 74th Divisions. In July the first of the promised reinforcements reached the front, the 60th Division, a second-line Territorial Division made up of Londoners, many of whom had been shop boys, clerks, and civil servants in civilian life. The 60th also included a large Cockney element. This was the 60th Division’s third theater of operations in twelve months: it had already served in France and the Balkans. “If we had been asked yesterday,” Case wrote his family, “‘Is it possible to discover a worse situated, a more inconvenient, or a more unholy spot in the world than your late rest camp in Macedonia?’ We would have unanimously replied ‘No, it cannot be possible.’ Today, however, we have not only changed our minds, but we have actually found this spot, and more than that, we are encamped upon it.”51 The 60th Division’s trip to the front on the Kantara Military Railway had been a nightmare. Thirty men and their equipment had been stuffed like cattle into each railway car. “We were one jumbled mass of arms and legs, equipment, rifles and pith helmets,” Blaser recalled. “It was out of the question to lie down, and as the train bumped and jolted we gradually settled amongst our surroundings, being so wedged in and entangled with other people and their belongings that it was almost impossible to move.”52

Because the 60th Division had only served in theaters dominated by trench warfare, it was singled out for extensive training in open warfare that emphasized long marches and exercises in waterless territory during the heat of the day. Men were limited to two water bottles. Their training in the Wadi Ghazze was unlike anything that the division members had previously experienced. Private F. V. Blunt, who served with the Civil Service Rifles, 179th Brigade, had been a civil servant in the office of the Surveyor of Taxes. Although he had been rejected for service several times because he was deemed “underdeveloped,” he bribed a sergeant at a lax recruiting station to pass him. The following excerpts from his diary are typical of the Londoners’ reaction to the strenuous training.

On October 1: “Had another attacking stunt early this morning. Only got in the way of another brigade on manoeuvres. Battalion marched back to our base camp at El Sharath in the full heat of the day. Nearly killed me. … ‘Oh this war is a bugger.’”

On October 4: “We went out again in the afternoon on a Brigade Field Day—attacking up the Wadi. Finished absolutely beat—never had a worse day in the army. Awful lot of ‘buggering about.’”

(p.94) On October 6: “Feeling jolly rotten from the effects of the exertions during the last two days. Absolutely fed up with everything.”53

Calcutt suggests that officers needed the training more than the rank and file. The following excerpts from his diary also reflect his cynicism, his dislike of war and army life, and the intense training he and his comrades in the 60th Division endured before 3rd Gaza.

On August 25: “An awful muck up it was. We should have been wiped out. The supporting wave lost the wave it was supporting. We attacked straight off after 1½ hours hard march, the attack being 1000 yards across heavy sand. Arrived absolutely whacked. … Our officers lost us coming back. They cannot even find the way in day light.”

On September 22: “March all night, falling in holes, and over wire, and halting in gullies, and sitting down just as it is time to go on again. Very cold Get in an hour’s sleep and wake up stiff, wet and cold. … The Sun comes out and we are immediately bathed in perspiration.”

On September 24: “In the afternoon (help) we attack the blasted Wadi Guzzie again. Oh Lord, if they muck up actual attacks like they muck up these practice affairs, we shall all be dead before we get anywhere near the Turks.”

On October 4: “Up at one o’ clock. Battle order, and move off, Fowler leads us in the dark to Waddi Guzzie quite successfully, Artillery fire, exhibition of wire cutting and barrage fire. High Explosive and Shrapnel at close quarters. London Scottish said to have two casualties. … We go to within 50 yards of the wire, charge it subsequently in full pack up hill. Could hardly hold the rifle up, let alone kill Turks. Wire hardly cut at all and about 400 shells were fired.”

On October 5: “Usual thing, trudging up and down the hills in the Waddi. Machine guns firing and popping. We advance through them. Fire a few rounds. N.C.O.’s wind up as usual. When they are front they yell ‘keep up in rear’ and when they are in rear they yell ‘steady in front.’”

On October 8: “Wind up. Hurried on surprise parade at 7.45, and in spite of the fact that eight men were crimed yesterday for having incomplete packs Rumsey and I have nothing in much. Exhibition of wire cutting by the hand method. An awful washout. Standing up in front of a trench fiddling about with a pair of nippers. They would be dead. … March to Brigade Headquarters and rehearse the attack on Beersheba. … We take the place of the Turks to-day. But first we pretend to be in reserve. Hide in a garden facing the enemy. Civil Service Rifles attack in front of us and arrive after doubling up without sufficient strength to kill (p.95) a louse. Let alone Turks. All grousing and grumbling in fine style. ‘Fuck the Army’ being the prevailing sentiment.”

On October 12: “We are bound for El Shellal. Breakfast in the dark. Bit of fat bacon, some got none. Bally awful march. Our Corporal afraid to halt at all! So we keep overtaking the Battalion, and then ‘Steady up.’ Oh, these ‘windy twits.’ Arrived, dash off for water. The Waddi all pipes and taps, and pumping houses, laid on from wells: splendidly organised. Somebody has brains evidently. We march in fours by the side of the camels. We miss the stunt, an attack. Water again in the afternoon. More marching in fours across the desert.”

On October 13: “Up and off defending the Waddi. The Scottish attack. Would not half have caught it. One Scot comes staggering up the incline just in front of Captain Flower. ‘Up Fucking hill and down bloody dales,’ he groans. ‘Very aptly put’ says Flower. By the by ‘Retire’ is a forbidden word in the 60th Division now. What does that signify; a ‘death and glory’ division. N.C.O.s officers and men will be ‘run’ if using the word.”54

The mounted divisions also rehearsed their role in the next big push: the exploitation of the extreme left of the Turkish front. They repeatedly rode to Beersheba, departing in the afternoon and arriving at dawn. The troopers during the heat of the day then conducted exercises and familiarized themselves with the ground over which they would attack. after completing this stunt, they returned to their base, hollow-eyed with exhaustion, filthy, and thirsty after a round trip of between sixty and seventy miles. Each trooper carried one quart of water, which he could replenish only once during this ordeal of some thirty-six hours.55

Mounted troops also were responsible for protecting infantry officers as they scouted the left flank of the Turkish front for the forthcoming attack. “It fell to the lot of my Squadron, among others, to provide protection and to act generally in the capacity of Messrs. Cook & Son,” recalled Major Lord Hampton, a squadron commander in the Worcestershire Yeomanry, 5th Mounted Brigade, Australian Mounted Division. “It was a curious sight. As far as the eye could see the hills were dotted with Khaki figures carrying large scale maps and getting ever closer to the white chalk lines which marked the enemy’s defences. The Turks sat in rows in or around their trenches and watched the proceedings with a considerable interest but, much to my relief, attempted little retaliation.”56

These cavalry treks on the open plain attracted the attention of enemy aircraft. Lieutenant C. H. Perkins delayed his plans to attend Cambridge to join the Yeomanry a month after the war erupted. He described (p.96) one such air attack on his Royal Bucks Hussars. “The lack of anti-aircraft guns was also unpleasant when the dust of the cavalry movement into ‘no man’s land’ prompted the appearance of Fritz in his German Taube planes,” he recalled. “They were clever to fly up and down for quite a time before dropping a bomb at intervals on the extended column of troops at ‘walk march’ pace. One or two troops in the column would dismount and fire rifle volleys at the face in the cockpit with apparently no result, and I must say it was somewhat hard not to duck one’s head as he came over.”57 Another response by horse soldiers to this threat from the sky was to march in small irregular groups known as “aeroplane formations.”

The intense heat, dust, scorpions, flies, and lice made life miserable for most soldiers. The crash program in desert and mobile warfare, which included night marches and early morning assaults, also took its toll on the men’s morale. Many longed for home and civilian life. L. G. Moore, 2/15th London Regiment (Civil Service Rifles), 179th Brigade, 60th Division, wrote his family: “I wonder if the people at home ever realise what a glorious country England is? When you’ve seen nothing but sand and soldiers and sun for weeks you do get ‘fed-up’ and long for the green fields and trees and even rain of Blighty. There is roughly about a day’s march between each tree here and they aren’t worth looking at.”58 Moore never saw home or “Blighty” again. He was killed on December 27, 1917.

After a strenuous march in full pack, Calcutt was moved to denounce “all politicians and war mongers” to an apparently appreciative audience. “General approval of the denunciations,” his diary entry reads. “Papers full of articles showing up home grousers as compared with the cheerful Tommy. This is very skilful on the part of the Press.”59 Calcutt was also unimpressed with a pep talk given by Major General J. S. M. Shea, an Irishman of energy and drive, who had been hand-picked by Allenby to command the 60th Division. Shea proved to be a fearless and first-rate commander who stayed close to the action, but Calcutt was unmoved by his oratorical efforts to “gin” up his unit. On October 11, Calcutt stood at attention in his tunic. He had a “dressed up feeling reminiscent of going to Church in a velveteen suit in boyhood days. We may look very clean but are really very sweaty and dirty.” After inspecting the troops, Shea said, “Gather round me, gather round me—never mind any formation, just gather round.” In Calcutt’s view, he then laid

“it on with a trowel.” A whole lot of fulsome rubbish about what a fine lot of men he could see we were, full of determination, something about undying (p.97) honour and glory, splendid regiment, how he loved us (he actually said this), how we were the division going into the worst part of the whole attack and how proud we should be, how it would be no picnic, and how when we were ready to drop we should think of our fine First Battalion and then stick it. He was sure we were cheerful and gave ready obedience to our officers and finally with a choking voice, congratulated Gordon Clark on having such men under him.

Shea’s speech was favorably received by most men, but Calcutt had had his fill of army discipline. “The reality, of course, is that the men are horribly fed up,” he wrote in his diary, “not by hardships and fighting, but by the silly kidish mucking about on the part of the purile minded incompetents that pass for officers (Quite good chaps really) and the nagging of the N.C.O.s who treat the men as if they were kids in a kindergarten school. I guarantee they do more damage to ‘morale’ than anything the enemy has ever done.”60

Some soldiers didn’t have the intensive training of the men of the 60th Division, but many were still being stretched to the breaking point by endless fatigues and drill. This was especially true in the ranks in the RFA. “Harness cleaning every day, and the harness is getting worse instead of better, the men have to do transport and fatigues,” a frustrated James C. Jones, ½nd Lowland Brigade, RFA, 52nd (Lowland) Division, wrote in his diary, “and are expected to clean harness too, it’s impossible to get it cleaned. … I’m absolutely fed up, being kicked about from pillar to post; out on transport all day and on duty at night, and running a subsection in the bargain, it’s impossible for any man to do it; the least thing and we are put under arrest.”61 The nineteen-year-old Jones seriously considered taking a drop in rank to private to escape the pressure.

The EEF’s leadership also resorted to trench raids to keep their forces battle ready during this period of stalemate. Both the infantry and cavalry were used in these stunts. A. S. Benbow, 9th Company, Imperial Camel Brigade, provided a description of a raid on the Sana Redoubt in August that reflected the meticulous preparation for some of these raids to assure their success and to limit casualties. The British used aerial reconnaissance to build an exact replica of the Sana Redoubt. Benbow’s unit then made repeated assaults against this position in darkness until they knew “the layout almost perfectly.” Before the assault, Benbow blackened his face, and for identification purposes, he had a white pyramid-shaped piece of cloth sewn to the back of his tunic and broad white bands attached to his arms. Men in the first wave carried balls of string to guide those who followed them. Each man also received chewing gum and black tennis shoes. The chewing gum’s purpose was something (p.98) of a mystery. Some thought it was intended to keep their jaws from “vibrating with terror”; others believed that it was to keep them from whispering or talking. Although the black tennis shoes proved a failure because the men advanced over dry and brittle patches of scrub that crackled under their feet, the attack was a complete success.62

Strict discipline, rigorous training, and trench raids during the last half of 1917 prepared the EEF for the difficult campaign ahead. But senior officers had to use the velvet glove as well as the mailed fist to nourish the Eastern Force’s wounded spirits after its two unsuccessful attempts to take Gaza. Although distance and limited shipping made home leave virtually unobtainable, soldiers still needed to escape the war, if only for a few days. “One can hardly describe the joys of being let loose after all these months of toil and hardships from almost a prison life when one’s life & soul were not one’s own,”63 wrote W. N. Hendry, 2/14th Regiment (London Scottish), 179th Brigade, 60th Division.

Major Arthur Frederick Stanley Clarke, 1/10th London Regiment, 162nd Brigade, 54th Division, remembers a visit that Allenby paid his brigade. As the commander in chief was about to depart, he commented to Major General S. W. Hare that the men looked fit but tired. The following exchange ensued:

“They have had no leave for over a year, Sir,” answered our General Hare.

Explosion “Why?”

“Not allowed by G.H.Q., Sir.”

“Oh!” Explosion finished.64

A week later, Clarke and his men were sent to a holiday camp on the sea.

Many soldiers could not afford a visit to Cairo or other Egyptian cities, so holiday camps had been established on the seacoast where it was possible for men to have their clothes fumigated and cleaned. For the first time in weeks, many soldiers also enjoyed feeling really clean because of ready access to the sea. Private John Bateman Beer, 2/22nd London Regiment, 181st Brigade, 60th Division, spent several days on what he called the “Palestine Riviera,” and he reported his experience in glowing terms to his mother and father. He delighted in the simple creature comforts that service in Palestine had denied him. He was given a pair of pajamas and a blanket and allowed to “lounge about at one’s leisure & it was quite a treat to go to bed in pyjamas in a Bell Tent near the sea. … a tent nowadays being quite a high form of living, especially after living out in the open, in the desert with a shortage of water, this was just what was needed.” Although he ate army rations, it was “served in Dining (p.99) Hall with tables to eat our food from.” There was also “a band to play to us during the day & evening, and also concert parties to entertain us. A library is at our disposal & bathing ad-lib.”65 Such amenities represented heaven for a Tommy serving in Palestine.

Blaser fondly recalled the boyish games he played in the ocean. “Bathing parades morning and evening were the order of the day,” he wrote, “when the whole Battalion would be in the water at once. Several cliques were formed, which waged an aquatic war against each other, the supreme sacrifice being made when one of the ‘enemy,’ approaching you from the rear or from below the surface, succeeded in giving you a severe ducking.”66 Music and sports also provided some release from the monotony, work parties, and petty details of military life. Every brigade had a band. “In the evening Rumsey & I make café au lait, smoke cigarettes, and lay on our backs under a tropical sky, Egyptian crescent moon and clear twinkling stars and listen to the Brigade band play Gilbert and Sullivan,”67 Calcutt wrote about one of his lighter moments. Divisional concert parties modeled themselves after music hall acts, featuring sketches and songs.

The 60th Division had the famous “Roosters” and the 53rd Division, “The Rare Welsh Bits.” The 54th’s Divisional concert party debuted with a revue entitled “The Fair Maid of Gaza,” a parody on the opera Sampson and Delilah. Men took the role of women and dressed accordingly. The heroine’s black silk stockings in Sampson and Delilah created, according to one observer, “quite a stir.” “Miss Woodin,” of the “Tanks” of the Middlesex Yeomanry, with his “excellent and realistic make-up and truly feminine voice and mannerisms,” was also a favorite.

Audience participation enlivened these concerts. Soldiers were frequently encouraged to sing along. The humor in the sketches, frequently irreverent and earthy, usually focused on the trials and tribulations facing ordinary soldiers. Men made fun of their officers and authority in general. The “Tanks” performed a skit, “The Trial of Private Curricomb,” which lampooned regimental routine and the orderly room. The villain in the 54th Divisional concert was an assistant provost marshal. The audience joined in with catcalls, whistles, and cheers.68

The army provided other amusements for the soldiers, but often they had a purpose. This was especially true of sports that stressed competition and unit cohesion: tug-of-war, boxing, wrestling on horses and camels, rugby, and soccer. The infantry played football wherever they fought in World War I, from France to Mesopotamia to Palestine. This game was hugely popular with both players and spectators. But there (p.100) were times in Palestine when the troops were just too exhausted to enjoy themselves. “Troops being forcibly fed with football, and have to play,” Calcutt recorded in his diary. “After being out all night and only just returned. They wangle out of it. Football mad.”69 Other contests, such as officers’ donkey races and “bint” races with soldiers dressed in feminine attire, provided comic relief.

Mounted troops enjoyed racing their horses and even camels. Large crowds attended these affairs, held on racecourses built behind the front. Betting was the great attraction. According to Bluett, “there was even a totalisator for those, which meant everybody who could obtain an advance on his pay-book, who liked what is called in racing circles ‘a flutter’; and there were always several amateur ‘bookies’ as well.”70

Despite these amusements for the troops, the realities of war were never distant. For its next great battle, the British force went through yet another reorganization. Allenby replaced the Eastern Force in August with three corps: the Desert Mounted Corps, commanded by Chauvel and made up of mounted forces; the XX Corps, commanded by Chetwode and composed of the 10th (Irish) Division, the 53rd (Welsh) Division, the 60th (London) Division, and the 74th (Yeomanry) Division; and the XXI Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General Edward Bulfin and made up of the 52nd (Lowland) Division, the 54th (East Anglian) Division, and the 75th Division, which was built from scratch in Egypt and was not complete until October. All of these troops, with the exception of the 10th, which was made up of both Regular and New Army, were either Territorial or Colonial.

Besides numbers, the War office strengthened Allenby’s forces in two other important ways: air power and artillery. Turkish domination of the air had been ended in the autumn when Allenby received a substantial number of Bristol fighters. Mastery of the air helped make it possible for Allenby to surprise the Turks at 3rd Gaza. And his additional artillery, which included a substantial increase in heavy pieces, gave him a total of 475 guns to the enemy’s 300. His force of roughly 75,000 rifles and 17,000 sabres on the eve of 3rd Gaza increased the odds in his favor even more.71 According to a recent reassessment of Turkish manpower, the Turks, depleted by sickness, may have had as few as 20,000 men along their whole front, giving the British an overwhelming advantage.72

Allenby thus had advantages possessed by no British general in France: a massive superiority in men and material, and an open flank to attack. Rather than repeat a frontal attack against Gaza, he embraced a (p.101) plan formulated by Chetwode and Dawnay. In simple terms, it called for a holding attack on Gaza by the XXI Corps that emphasized artillery, with the primary thrust coming from the Desert Mounted Corps and the XX Corps against the Turkish left at Beersheba. after Beersheba’s capture, the British hoped to roll up the Turkish left as it advanced north from Beersheba toward Gaza.73

Allenby emphasized deception and surprise. When his infantry deployed for the offensive, they left their camps intact to make any Turkish airman believe that they were still occupied. The intelligence officer Richard Meinertzhagen carried out the most successful deception to mask the EEF’s intentions. On October 10, he made the following entry in his diary:

Spent today in deceiving the enemy. I have been busy lately compiling a dummy Staff officer’s notebook containing all sorts of nonsense about our plans and difficulties. Today I took it out to the country north-west of Beersheba with a view to passing it on to the enemy without exciting suspicion. After crossing the Wadi Ghuzzee I went in a north-westerly direction towards Sheria. I was well mounted and near Girheir I found a Turkish patrol who at once gave chase. I galloped away for a mile or so and then they pulled up, so I stopped, dismounted and had a shot at them at about 600 yards. That was too much for them and they at once resumed the chase, blazing away harmlessly all the time. Now was my chance, and in my effort to mount I loosened my haversack, field-glasses, water-bottle, dropped my rifle, previously stained with some fresh blood from my horse, and in fact did everything to make them believe I was hit and that my flight was disorderly.74

This ruse apparently worked, and the Turks were led to believe that the British planned to concentrate on Gaza.

Bayonets were sharpened and hair cut short as the day for the offensive approached. Calcutt got what he termed a “Beersheba” haircut. “All off. Look a murderous villain now,” he noted in his diary. His kit for the assault included one extra water bottle, one gas mask, one telescopic sight in case, one bivy sheet, one pole, three pegs, two sandbags, 130 rounds of ammunition, one rifle, one tunic, one shirt, one cap comforter, one cardigan, two pairs of socks, one holdall and contents, emergency rations of bully beef and biscuits, rations for the day, and a mess tin. His private belongings, which included his diary, went into his gas helmet satchel. His bivy, or bivouac, was new issue and proved to be invaluable during the winter advance on Jerusalem. It consisted of a waterproof cloth about five feet, six inches square. Buttons and buttonholes (p.102) made it possible to fasten two squares together, creating a cramped shelter for two men.

Calcutt’s 60th Division was part of the XX Corps on the Turkish left flank. Its training for open warfare resembled the training British soldiers had received before trench warfare had become the norm on the western front. Calcutt and his comrades had been taught to advance steadily in waves through shell and shot until held up by the enemy’s fire; a firing line would then be built up as a prelude for the final assault. In Calcutt’s words, the first wave would engage “the enemy with Rifle, Lewis Gun, & Machine gun fire. The assaulting parties to get within 500 yards. Smoke cloud then starts and 10 minutes afterwards heavy artillery which will last for 10 minutes. Assault will take place under cover of heavy bombardment and machine gun barrage fire. Reorganise and consolidate.”75

Soldiers reacted in different ways to the prospect of resuming the offensive. When Blunt learned that his platoon was in the first wave, he gloomily noted in his diary: “Looks as if we shall cop it on the actual day.”76 On the other hand, Sergeant A. V. Young, who came from a soldier’s family, was gung ho. “Our Battn [2/17th London Regiment (Poplar and Stepney), 180th Brigade, 60th Division] is at last to be tried in open warfare, for the Turk is more likely to be licked by the bayonet than anything else,” he wrote in his diary. “We are to turn him out. For months we have had all trench warfare. The keenness for fighting returns, the fed-upness goes for all are eager for the fight. I have no thought of fear, only curiosity as to what hand to hand fighting will be like.”77

The British now had ample artillery and shells to support the infantry, especially against the Turkish fortifications at Gaza. The XXI Corps, given the role of pinning down the Turks at Gaza, had sixty-eight medium or heavy guns and howitzers for counterbattery work, or one to every sixty yards of the area to be assaulted, the same ratio that the British had on the Somme in July 1916. British and French naval guns, which included one 14-inch and two 10.8-inch guns, added to the weight of this tremendous bombardment. It was going to be the largest conducted during the war outside the European theater. 78

RFA officer Major Bailey, the aide de camp to Brigadier General G. W. Bildulph, CRA, 54th Division, helped prepare the schedule for the XXI Corps’s preliminary bombardment. “We are arranging our six days programme so that the whole of the front of our group is plastered all day and every day,” he noted in his diary.


Each Battery is allotted certain 1000 yd squares in which they are to engage targets at certain hours. Each battery is allotted those squares—within which are its bombardment targets in the final assault, in order that Registration of Targets may be perfected during the 6 days. Each Battery is also given certain hours each day and each night during which it will not fire, and during which its personnel must rest. As well as the day programme, I am working out night firing orders for each Battery for each night of the six days.79

A tremendous thunderstorm accompanied this merciless torrent of steel and explosives on “X-6 Day,” October 27, the day the preliminary bombardment of the Gaza defenses began. “The heat was tremendous and the wet awful,” Bailey continued in his diary, “and at the batteries most of the gunners served their guns during the night firing, clad only in towels.”80

A storm of a different kind awaited the Turkish defenders of Beersheba, a force roughly the equivalent of a full-strength British brigade (4,400 riflemen). The offensive against this town with its precious supply of water had been set for October 31. In the days just before this date, the plain across from the enemy’s front had been a beehive of activity at night. The mounted troops and infantry moving south heard the rumbling and over their left shoulders could see the flickering flashes of the big guns bombarding Gaza.

A compass and carefully placed lanterns provided directions. To change directions, the directing flank of a brigade marched to a lantern that had been positioned during daylight. The brigade then halted until another lantern was placed and lit on its outer flank. Once the brigade had been squared up between the two lanterns, it was pointed in the right direction.81 In daylight, troops hid themselves in the beds of the wadis. To prevent the zinc or copper water tanks carried by the camels from glinting in the sun, they were wrapped in blankets. The staff’s meticulous attention to detail meant that the concentration of the XX Corps and the Desert Mounted Corps on the Turkish left went off almost without a hitch.


(1) . A. B. Acheson to Sir James Edmonds and Edmonds to Acheson, July 18 and 19, 1950, PRO, Cab 103/113.

(2) . Robertson to Haig, April 15, 1917, in David R. Woodward, ed., The Military Correspondence of Field Marshal Sir William Robertson, Chief of Imperial General Staff, December 1915–February 1918 (London: Bodley Head/Army Records Society, 1989), 174–75.

(3) . Edmonds to Acheson, July 19, 1950, PRO, Cab 103/113; memoirs, 271, LHCMA, Edmonds MSS, III/2.

(4) . General Spencer E. Holland to Wavell, n.d., LHCMA, Allenby MSS 6/7/31.

(5) . Memoirs, 270, LHCMA, Edmonds MSS III/2.

(6) . Ibid.

(7) . General Sir George de S. Barrow, The Fire of Life (London: Hutchinson, 1942), 44.

(8) . Hugh O’Neil to Wavell, June 5, 1939, LHCMA, Allenby MSS 6/9/46.

(9) . Archibald Wavell, Allenby: A Study in Greatness (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1941), 294.

(10) . Diary entry of June 27, 1917, IWM, O. C. Williams MSS 69/78/1.

(11) . Ibid.

(12) . Lynden-Bell to Maurice, July 11, 1917, IWM, Lynden-Bell MSS 90/1/1.

(13) . Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, Army Diary, 1899–1926 (London: Oliver and Boyd, 1960), 219.

(14) . Wavell, Allenby, 188.

(15) . Wigan to Director, Historical Branch, CID, December 30, 1929, PRO, Cab 45/80/W.

(16) . Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Lightfoot Eason to Wavell, August 17, 1937, LHCMA, Allenby MSS 6/8/43.

(17) . Geoffrey Inchbald, Imperial Camel Corps (London: Johnson, 1970), 82.

(18) . Ibid.

(19) . Lawrence James, Imperial Warrior: The Life and Times of Field-Marshal Viscount Allenby, 1861–1936 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1993), 116.

(20) . Allenby to Lady Allenby, July 28, 1917, in Matthew Hughes, ed., Allenby in Palestine: The Middle East Correspondence of Field Marshal Viscount Allenby (London: Sutton Publishing/Army Records Society, 2004), 45–46.

(21) . Colonel Reginald Edmund Maghlin Russell to Wavell, August 6, 1937, LHCMA, Allenby MSS 6/8/74.

(22) . David Lloyd George, War Memoirs of David Lloyd George (London: Odhams Press, 1938), 2:1090.

(23) . Captain Cyril Falls, Military Operations: Egypt and Palestine from June 1917 to the End of the War (1930; reprint, Nashville, Tenn.: Battery Press, 1996), part 1, 631.

(24) . For an excellent recent account of Allenby’s political as well as military role, see Matthew Hughes, Allenby and British Strategy in the Middle East, 1917–1919 (London: Frank Cass, 1999).

(25) . Lieutenant General Sir George MacMunn and Captain Cyril Falls, Military Operations: Egypt and Palestine from the Outbreak of War with Germany to June 1917 (1928; reprint, Nashville, Tenn.: Battery Press, 1996), 12n1.

(26) . Robertson, “Palestine,” July 19, 1917, PRO, WO 106/1513.

(27) . Edward J. Erickson, Ordered to Die: A History of the Ottoman Army in the First World War (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001), 166–72.

(28) . See David R. Woodward, Field Marshal Sir William Robertson: Chief of the Imperial General Staff in the Great War (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1998), 158–59.

(29) . “Notes on Palestine,” n.d., IWM, Minshall MSS 86/51/1.

(30) . Ion L. Idriess, The Desert Column (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1932), 237–38.

(31) . Robert H. Goodsall, Palestine Memories, 1917–1918–1925 (Canterbury: Cross and Jackman, 1925), 34.

(32) . Captain E. Stanley Goodland, Engaged in War: The Letters of Stanley (p.221) Goodland Somerset Light Infantry, 1914–1919, ed. Anne Noyes (Guildford: Twiga Books, 1999), 88.

(33) . Diary entry of January 1, 1918, IWM, Marchant MSS Box No 102.

(34) . Diary entries of October 10 and November 30, 1917, IWM, Blunt MSS 94/5/1.

(35) . Case to “my dear people,” June 31, 1917, IWM, Case MSS P 147.

(36) . Bernard Blaser, Kilts across the Jordan: Being Experiences and Impressions with the Second Battalion “London Scottish” in Palestine (London: H. F. & G. Witherby, 1926), 53.

(37) . Antony Bluett, With Our Army in Palestine (London: Andrew Melrose, 1919), 24–25.

(38) . Ibid., 163.

(39) . Diary entry of October 12, 1917, IWM, Blunt MSS 94/5/1.

(40) . Case to “my dear people,” June 31, 1917, IWM, Case MSS P 147.

(41) . Diary entry of July 30, 1917, IWM, Pope MSS 78/42/1.

(42) . Blaser, Kilts across the Jordan, 49.

(43) . Evans to mother, September 8, 1917, IWM, J. O. Evans MSS 96/7/1.

(44) . Douglas Thorburn, Amateur Gunners: The Adventures of an Amateur Soldier in France, Salonica and Palestine in the Royal Field Artillery (Liverpool: William Potter, 1933), 76.

(45) . Middlesex Yeomanry Magazine, Souvenir Number, 1914–1919, 43.

(46) . Diary entry of August 23, 1917, IWM, Calcutt MSS 78/56/2.

(47) . Blaser, Kilts across the Jordan, 33–34.

(48) . Diary entry of October 6, 1917, IWM, Calcutt MSS 78/56/2.

(49) . Diary entry of September 21, 1917, IWM, Calcutt MSS 78/56/2.

(50) . Lynden-Bell to Chetwode, July 19, 1917, IWM, Chetwode MSS P 183.

(51) . Case to “my dear people,” July 31, 1917, IWM, Case MSS P. 147.

(52) . Blaser, Kilts across the Jordan, 39.

(53) . IWM, Blunt MSS 94/5/1.

(54) . IWM, Calcutt MSS 78/56/2.

(55) . A. J. Hill, Chauvel of the Light Horse: A Biography of General Sir Harry Chauvel (Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 1978), 121–22.

(56) . “The Chronicle of a Yeomanry Squadron in Palestine, Jordan and Syria,” n.d., IWM, Hampton MSS DS/MISC/82.

(57) . “With Horses to Jerusalem,” n.d., IWM, Perkins MSS 87/18/1.

(58) . Moore to “Dear Folk,” October 14, 1917, IWM, Moore MSS Con Shelf.

(59) . September 26, 1917, IWM, Calcutt MSS 78/56/2.

(60) . Diary entry of October 11, 1917, IWM, Calcutt MSS 78/56/2.

(61) . Entry of October 11, IWM, J. C. Jones MSS 67/15/1.

(62) . “Autobiography. A Humble, Simple & True Account,” n.d., part 2, and a separate contemporary account of the Sana Redoubt affair, August 19, 1917, IWM, A. S. Benbow MSS PP/MCA/146.

(63) . Memoir, IWM, Hendry MSS, 78/42/1.

(64) . LHCMA, Clarke MSS 1/1.

(65) . Beer to his parents, September 22, 1917, IWM, Beer MSS 86/19/1.

(66) . Blaser, Kilts across the Jordan, 43.

(67) . Diary entry of September 23, 1917, IWM, Calcutt MSS 78/56/2.

(68) . LHCMA, Clarke MSS 1/1; IWM, Middlesex Yeomanry Magazine 1, no. 2 (October 1917).

(69) . Diary entry of September 22, 1917, IWM, Calcutt MSS 78/56/2.

(70) . Bluett, With Our Army in Palestine, 230.

(71) . These numbers are taken from Wavell, The Palestine Campaigns (London: Constable and Company, 1928), 112–15.

(72) . See Hughes, Allenby and British Strategy, 46–47.

(73) . Chetwode wrote the following on his copy of this appreciation: “The above plan was adopted by Gen. Sir E. Allenby on his arrival in Egypt & was carried out—Commencing with the Capture of Bir Saba on Oct 31st & ending with the fall of Jerusalem on Dec 9th 1917.” “Notes on the Palestine Operation,” June 21, 1917, IWM, Chetwode MSS P 183.

(74) . Meinertzhagen, Army Diary, 222.

(75) . Diary entry of October 8, 1917, IWM, Calcutt MSS 78/56/2.

(76) . Diary entry of October 8, 1917, IWM, Blunt MSS 94/5/1.

(77) . Diary entry of September 5, 1917, IWM, A. V. Young MSS 76/101/1.

(78) . MacMunn and Falls, Military Operations, 65n2.

(79) . Diary entry of October 11, 1917, IWM, Bailey MSS 85/4/1.

(80) . Diary entry of October 27, 1917, IWM, Bailey MSS 85/4/1.

(81) . Captain R. E. C. Adams, The Modern Crusaders, Palestine, October 1917–May 1918 (London: Routledge, 1920), 30–31.