David Young – Allenby – A General and a Gentleman
Today, one hundred years and a couple of months ago, on December 9th 1917, General Edmund Allenby entered the Old City of Jerusalem at the head of the conquering Allied army during the First World War. This deliberately low-key entrance signaled the end of the 400 year old Ottoman rule of the Holy Land. Today this major historic event has been commemorated in a fascinating exhibition in Jerusalem’s Tower of David – “A General and a Gentleman: Allenby at the Gates of Jerusalem.”
Here you can see photos and contemporary scratchy movies recording what happened then, together with original and rare objects from the time. Objects such as uniforms, hats, badges and copies of his military proclamations are also on display.
To go back just over a century, this is what happened: At mid-day, December 9th 1917, in a well-planned move, General Allenby entered the Old City of Jerusalem on foot at the head of a large entourage of his senior officers. These men included representatives of all the different armies who had made this possible, including the British, French, Australian and New Zealand (Anzac) brigades.
This modest entrance was carried out as a deliberate contrast to that made 20 years earlier by the German Kaiser Wilhelm II. He had arrived, together with a large group of colourfully uniformed men, all on horseback.
Soon after Allenby’s arrival, the victorious general made his way to the steps at the foot of the Tower of David and in a carefully worded proclamation, announced that religious tolerance for the Jewish, Christian and Moslem buildings and faith was the order of the day. He then ensured, together with the leaders of the three faiths that all the holy sites would be respected and not harmed in any way.
From his success in presenting the British Prime Minister Lloyd George with a ‘Christmas present’ to his war-weary country – which also incidentally occurred during Hanukah 1917 – Allenby went on to defeat the Turks and drive them out of the Holy Land. He completed this task just twelve days before the war came to an end on November 11th 1918.
As for the general himself: Allenby was known as ‘the Bull’ due to his short and fiery temper and his lack of tolerance for anyone carrying out their duties in a sloppy manner. He was appointed the commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in July 1917 after his predecessor, General Murray, had failed to capture Gaza after two attempts. Allenby attacked Beersheba instead and then captured Gaza. From there he moved north to take Jerusalem. Despite his hot temper, he was appreciated by his men as he moved his headquarters from distant Cairo to the front lines and worked hard to make sure his troops were well cared for.
Later, Allenby – known as Al-nebi, the Prophet by the Arabs – became the High Commissioner in Egypt in 1919 until he retired in 1925. He died ten years later and is known throughout Israel by the many places and roads named after him.