CHAPTER XIV. THE DELIVERANCE OF THE HOLY CITY
The impossibility of getting across the road north of Jerusalem by making a wide sweep over the Judean hills caused a new plan to be put into execution. This necessitated a direct attack on the well-prepared system of defences on the hills protecting Jerusalem from the west, but it did not entail any weakening of General Allenby's determination that there should be no fighting by British troops in and about the precincts of the Holy City. That resolve was unshaken and unshakable. When a new scheme was prepared by the XXth Corps, the question was put whether the Turks could be attacked at Lifta, which was part of their system. Now Lifta is a native village on one of the hill-faces to the west of Jerusalem, about a mile from the Holy City's walls, and, as it is not even connected by a road with any of the various colonies forming the suburbs of Jerusalem, could not by any stretch of imagination be described by a Hun propaganda merchant as part of Jerusalem. I happen to know that on the 26th November the Commander-in-Chief sent this communication to General Chetwode: 'I place no restriction upon you in respect of any operation which you may consider necessary against Lifta or the enemy's lines to the south of it, except that on no account is any risk to be run of bringing the City of Jerusalem or its immediate environs within the area of operations.' The spirit as well as the letter of that order was carried out, and in the very full orders and notes on the operations issued before the victorious attack was made, there is the most elaborate detail regarding the different objectives of divisions and brigades, and scrupulous care was taken that no advance should be made against any resisting enemy within the boundaries not only of the Holy City but of the suburbs. We shall see how thoroughly these instructions were followed.
When it became obvious that Jerusalem could not be secured without the adoption of a deliberate method of attack, there were many matters requiring the anxious consideration of the XXth Corps staff. They took over from XXIst Corps at a time when the enemy was still very active against the line which they had gained under very hard conditions. The XXth Corps, beginning with the advantage of positions which the XXIst Corps had won, had to prepare to meet the enemy with equal gun power and more than equality in rifle strength. We had the men and the guns in the country, but to get them into the line and to keep them supplied was a problem of considerable magnitude. Time was an important factor. The rains had begun. The spells of fine weather were getting shorter, and after each period of rain the sodden state of the country affected all movement. To bring up supplies we could only rely on road traffic from Gaza and Deir Sineid, and the light soil had become hopelessly cut up during the rains. The main line of railway was not to be opened to Mejdel till December 8, and the captured Turkish line between Deir Sineid and Junction Station had a maximum capacity of one hundred tons of ordnance stores a day, and these had to be moved forward again by road. An advance must slow down while communications were improved. The XXth Corps inherited from the XXIst Corps the track between Beit Likia and Biddu which had been prepared with an infinity of trouble and exertion, but this and the main Latron-Jerusalem road were the only highways available.