Edmund Allenby: the British Mandate's conquerer of Jerusalem
Nicknamed the "Bloody Bull," but known as an intelligent and moral soldier, General Edmund Allenby brought an end to the Ottoman rule of Jerusalem, when he helped capture Palestine (and Syria) for the British Mandate during the First World War. Ironically, in Jerusalem, the city that served as Allenby's hub of operations for conquering the northern Middle East, no street bears his name today.
The darling of Britain's World War I Middle East campaign, Allenby's professional life was marked by ironic twists of fate. After twice failing the test to enter Britain's Indian Civil Service, Allenby turned to the military, ultimately placing fifth out of 110 applicants at the Royal Military College Exam. The military, it turns out, was a natural fit for Allenby, who gained experience and an impressive reputation in Africa during the Second Boer War.
After defeating the Boer Republics (now South Africa), Allenby returned to England where in October 1915 he was put in charge of the British Third Army. Once again, a pitfall fatefully pushed Allenby forward, when his shortcomings in lackluster victory against the Germans at the Battle of Arras led to his "demotion." Allenby was transferred to Egypt, where he was put in charge of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, quickly earning the respect of his troops by visiting them on the front lines and moving his own headquarters from Gaza to Rafah. After capturing Gaza, Allenby moved north, eventually defeating the Ottomans and capturing Jerusalem on the first day of Chanuka, December 9, 1917.
Although he had made his name as a cavalry soldier, it was on foot that Allenby first entered Jerusalem, dismounting his horse and walking through Jaffa Gate out of respect for the Holy City. Allenby's official report on entering the city recalls that "The procession was all afoot, and at Jaffa Gate I was received by the guards representing England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, India, France and Italy. The population received me well."
He went on to deliver a landmark speech from the Tower of David, and to declare martial law in efforts to preserve Jerusalem's commerce and pilgrimage activities, stating, "since your city is regarded with affection by the adherents of three of the great religions of mankind and its soil has been consecrated by the prayers and pilgrimages of multitudes of devout people of these three religions for many centuries, therefore, do I make it known to you that every sacred building, monument, holy spot, shrine, traditional site, endowment, pious bequest, or customary place of prayer of whatsoever form of the three religions will be maintained and protected according to the existing customs and beliefs of those to whose faith they are sacred."
From Jerusalem, Allenby defeated the Ottomans at the famous Battle of Megiddo in September 1918, eventually capturing Damascus on the first of October. Aleppo fell to Allenby's troops on October 25, and by the end of the month, the Turks had admitted defeat.
Allenby's relationship with Jerusalem outlived the War, and on May 7, 1927, the general was invited to lay the cornerstone of St. Andrew's Church in honor of the Scottish soldiers who fought under him in World War I.
Ironically, while today both Tel-Aviv and Haifa have major thoroughfares named after General Allenby, whose name also graces one of the major passages into Jordan, in Jerusalem, Allenby's name is virtually unused. A former British army camp, known as "Allenby Camp" throughout the mandate period, is now the proposed site of a possible Jerusalem-based US Embassy in Talpiot, but like the promised high-speed train connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the embassy does not seem likely to be built anytime soon.
Allenby, survivor of multiple wars, died suddenly, of an aneurysm, in London in May 1936.
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