Seven Pillars of Wisdom – Day 153 of 240

While I was still with him, word came from Chetwode that Jerusalem had fallen; and Allenby made ready to enter in the official manner which the catholic imagination of Mark Sykes had devised. He was good enough, although I had done nothing for the success, to let Clayton take me along as his staff officer for the day. The personal Staff tricked me out in their spare clothes till I looked like a major in the British Army. Dalmeny lent me red tabs, Evans his brass hat; so that I had the gauds of my appointment in the ceremony of the Jaffa gate, which for me was the supreme moment of the war.

Book Seven. The Dead Sea Campaign

Chapters LXXXII To XCI

After the capture of Jerusalem, Allenby, to relieve his right, assigned us a limited objective. We began well; but when we reached the dead sea, bad weather, bad temper and division of purpose blunted our offensive spirit and broke up our force.

I had a misunderstanding with Zeid, threw in my hand, and returned to Palestine reporting that we had failed, and asking the favour of other employment. Allenby was in the hopeful midst of a great scheme for the coming spring. He sent me back at once to Feisal with new powers and duties.

Chapter LXXXII

Shamefaced with triumph–which was not so much a triumph as homage by Allenby to the mastering spirit of the place–we drove back to Shea’s headquarters. The aides pushed about, and from great baskets drew a lunch, varied, elaborate and succulent. On us fell a short space of quiet, to be shattered by Monsieur Picot, the French political representative permitted by Allenby to march beside Clayton in the entry, who said in his fluting voice: ‘And to-morrow, my dear general, I will take the necessary steps to set up civil government in this town.’

It was the bravest word on record; a silence followed, as when they opened the seventh seal in heaven. Salad, chicken mayonnaise and foie gras sandwiches hung in our wet mouths unmunched, while we turned to Allenby and gaped. Even he seemed for the moment at a loss. We began to fear that the idol might betray a frailty. But his face grew red: he swallowed, his chin coming forward (in the way we loved), whilst he said, grimly, ‘In the military zone the only authority is that of the Commander-in-Chief–myself.’ ‘But Sir Grey, Sir Edward Grey’. . . stammered M. Picot. He was cut short. ‘‘Sir Edward Grey’ referred to the civil government which will be established when I judge that the military situation permits.’ And by car again, through the sunshine of a great thankfulness, we sped down the saluting mountain-side into our camp.

There Allenby and Dawnay told me the British were marched and fought nearly to a standstill, in the ledged and precipitous hills, shell-torn and bullet-spattered, amid which they wrestled with the Turks along a line from Ramleh to Jerusalem. So they would ask us in the lull to come north towards the Dead Sea until, if possible, we linked right up to its southern end, and renewed the continuous front. Fortunately, this had already been discussed with Feisal, who was preparing the convergent move on Tafileh, its necessary first step.

It was the moment to ask Allenby what he would do next. He thought he was immobilized till the middle of February, when he would push down to Jericho. Much enemy food was being lightered up the Dead Sea, and he asked me to note this traffic as a second objective if the effort to Tafileh prevailed.

I, hoping to improve on this, replied that, should the Turks be continually shaken, we might join him at the north end of the Dead Sea. If he could put Feisal’s fifty tons a day of supplies, stores and ammunition into Jericho, we would abandon Akaba and transfer our headquarters to the Jordan Valley. The Arab regulars, now some three thousand strong, would suffice to make our retention of the river’s eastern bank reasonably secure.

This idea commended itself to Allenby and Dawnay. They could almost promise us such facilities when the railway reached Jerusalem some time towards the end of the coming January. We might be able to move our base two months after the line was through.

This talk left us a clear course of operations. The Arabs were to reach the Dead Sea as soon as possible; to stop the transport of food up it to Jericho before the middle of February; and to arrive at the Jordan before the end of March. Since the first movement would take a month to start, and all preliminaries were in hand, I could take a holiday. So I went down to Cairo, and stayed there a week experimenting with insulated cable and explosives.

After the week it seemed best to return to Akaba, where we arrived on Christmas Day; to find Snagge, as senior officer in Akaba, entertaining the British community to dinner. He had screened-in the after deck and built tables, which took the hosts and the twenty-odd guests easily. Snagge stood godfather to the land, in hospitality, in the loan of his ship’s doctor and workshop, and in cheerfulness.

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