CHAPTER XV. GENERAL ALLENBY'S OFFICIAL ENTRY
Jerusalem became supremely happy.
It had passed through the trials, if not the perils, of war. It had been the headquarters and base of a Turkish Army. Great bodies of troops were never quartered there, but staffs and depots were established in the City, and being in complete control, the military paid little regard to the needs of the population. Unfortunately a not inconsiderable section of Jerusalem's inhabitants is content to live, not by its own handiwork, but on the gifts of charitable religious people of all creeds. When war virtually shut off Jerusalem from the outer world the lot of the poor became precarious. The food of the country, just about sufficient for self-support, was to a large extent commandeered for the troops, and while prices rose the poor could not buy, and either their appeals did not reach the benevolent or funds were intercepted. Deaths from starvation were numbered by the thousand, Jews, Christians, and Moslems alike suffering, and there were few civilians in the Holy City who were not hungry for months at a time.
When I reached Jerusalem the people were at the height of their excitement over the coming of the British and they put the best face on their condition, but the freely expressed feeling of relief that the days of hunger torture were nearly past did not remove the signs of want and misery, of infinite suffering by father, mother, and child, brought about by a long period of starvation. That a people, pale, thin, bent, whose movements had become listless under the lash of hunger, could have been stirred into enthusiasm by the appearance of a khaki coat, that they could throw off the lethargy which comes of acute want, was only to be accounted for by the existence of a profound belief that we had been sent to deliver them. Some hours before the Official Entry I was walking in David Street when a Jewish woman, seeing that I was English, stopped me and said: 'We have prayed for this day. To-day I shall sing "God Save our Gracious King, Long Live our Noble King." We have been starving, but what does that matter? Now we are liberated and free.' She clasped her hands across her breasts and exclaimed several times, 'Oh how thankful we are.' An elderly man in a black robe, whose pinched pale face told of a long period of want, caught me by the hand and said: 'God has delivered us. Oh how happy we are.' An American worker in a Red Crescent hospital, who had lived in Jerusalem for upwards of ten years and knew the people well, assured me there was not one person in the Holy City who in his heart was not devoutly thankful for our victory. He told me that on the day we captured Nebi Samwil three wounded Arab officers were brought to the hospital. One of them spoke English - it was astonishing how many people could speak our mother tongue - and while he was having his wounds dressed he exclaimed: 'I can shout Hip-hip-hurrah for England now.' The officer was advised to be careful, as there were many Turkish wounded in the hospital, but he replied he did not care, and in unrestrained joy cried out, 'Hurrah for England.'
The deplorable lot of the people had been made harder by profiteering officers. Those who had money had to part with it for Turkish paper. The Turkish note was depreciated to about one-fifth of its face value. German officers traded in the notes for gold, sent the notes to Germany where, by a financial arrangement concluded between Constantinople and Berlin, they were accepted at face value. The German officer and soldier got richer the more they forced Turkish paper down. Turkish officers bought considerable supplies of wheat and flour from military depots, the cost being debited against their pay which was paid in paper. They then sold the goods for gold. That accounted for the high prices of foodstuffs, the price in gold being taken for the market valuation.
In the middle of November when there was a prospect of the Turks evacuating Jerusalem, the officers sold out their stocks of provisions and prices became less prohibitive, but they rose again quickly when it was decided to defend the City, and the cost of food mounted to almost famine prices. The Turks by selling for gold that which was bought for paper, rechanging gold for paper at their own prices, made huge profits and caused a heavy depreciation of the note at the expense of the population. Grain was brought from the district east of the Dead Sea, but none of it found its way to civilian mouths except through the extortionate channel provided by officers. Yet when we got into Jerusalem there were people with small stocks of flour who were willing to make flat loaves of unleavened bread for sale to our troops. The soldiers had been living for weeks on hard biscuit and bully beef, and many were willing to pay a shilling for a small cake of bread. They did not know that the stock of flour in the town was desperately low and that by buying this bread they were almost taking it out of the mouths of the poor. Some traders were so keen on getting good money, not paper, that they tried to do business on this footing, looking to the British Army to come to the aid of the people. The Army soon put a stop to this trade and the troops were prohibited from buying bread in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. As it was, the Quarter-master-General's branch had to send a large quantity of foodstuffs into the towns, and this was done at a time when it was a most anxious task to provision the troops. Those were very trying days for the supply and transport departments, and one wonders whether the civilian population ever realised the extent of the humanitarian efforts of our Army staff.