CHAPTER XVI. MAKING JERUSALEM SECURE
General Allenby within two days of capturing Jerusalem had secured a line of high ground which formed an excellent defensive system, but his XXth Corps Staff was busy with plans to extend the defences to give the Holy City safety from attack. Nothing could have had so damaging an influence on our prestige in the East, which was growing stronger every day as the direct result of the immense success of the operations in Palestine, as the recapture of Jerusalem by the Turks. We thought the wire-pulling of the German High Command would have its effect in the war councils of Turkey, and seeing that the regaining of the prize would have such far-reaching effect on public opinion no one was surprised that the Germans prevailed upon their ally to make the attempt. It was a hopeless failure. The attack came at a moment when we were ready to launch a scheme to secure a second and a third line of defences for Jerusalem, and gallantly as the Turks fought - they delivered thirteen powerful attacks against our line on the morning of December 27 - the venture had a disastrous ending, and instead of reaching Jerusalem the enemy had to yield to British arms seven miles of most valuable country and gave us, in place of one line, four strong lines for the defence of the Holy City. By supreme judgment, when the Turks had committed themselves to the attack on Tel el Ful, without which they could not move a yard on the Nablus road, General Chetwode started his operations on the left of his line with the 10th and 74th Divisions, using his plan as it had been prepared for some days to seize successive lines of hills, and compelled the enemy, in order to meet this attack, to divert the fresh division held in waiting at Bireh to throw forward into Jerusalem the moment the storming troops should pierce our line. With the precision of clockwork the Irish and dismounted yeomanry divisions secured their objectives, and on the second day of the fighting we regained the initiative and compelled the Turks to conform to our dispositions. On the fourth day we were on the Ramallah-Bireh line and secured for Jerusalem an impregnable defence. Prisoners told us that they had been promised, as a reward for their hoped-for success, a day in Jerusalem to do as they liked. We can imagine what the situation in the Holy City would have been had our line been less true. The Londoners who had won the City saved it. Probably only a few of the inhabitants had any knowledge of the danger the City was in on December 27. Their confidence in the British troops had grown and could scarcely be stronger, but some of them were alarmed, and throughout the early morning and day they knelt on housetops earnestly praying that our soldiers would have strength to withstand the Turkish onslaughts. From that day onward the sound of the guns was less violent, and as our artillery advanced northwards the people's misgivings vanished and they reproached themselves for their fears.
It will be remembered how the troops of the XXth Corps were disposed. The 53rd Division held the line south-east and east of Jerusalem from Bir Asad through Abu Dis, Bethany, to north of the Mount of Olives, whence the 60th Division took it up from Meshari, east of Shafat to Tel el Ful and to Beit Hannina across the Jerusalem-Nablus road. The 74th Division carried on to Nebi Samwil, Beit Izza to Beit Dukku, with the 10th Division on their left through Foka, Tahta to Suffa, the gap between the XXth Corps to the right of the XXIst Corps being held by the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade of the Australian Mounted Division. Against us were the 27th Turkish Division and the 7th and 27th cavalry regiments south of the Jericho road, with the 26th, 53rd, 19th, and 24th Divisions on the north of that road and to the west of the Jerusalem-Nablus road, one division being in reserve at Bireh, the latter a new division fresh from the Caucasus. The 6th and 8th Turkish cavalry regiments were facing our extreme left, the estimated strength of the enemy in the line being 14,700 rifles and 2300 sabres. Just as it was getting dark on December 11 a party of the enemy attacked the 179th Brigade at Tel el Ful but were repulsed. There was not much activity the following day, but the 53rd Division began a series of minor operations by which they secured some features of tactical importance. On the 13th the 181st Brigade made a dashing attack on Ras el Kharrabeh and secured it, taking 43 prisoners and two machine guns, with 31 casualties to themselves.
It was about this time the Corps Commander framed plans for the advance of our front north of Jerusalem. There had been a few days of fine weather, and a great deal had been done to improve the condition of the roads and communications. An army of Egyptian labourers had set to work on the Enab-Jerusalem road and from the villages had come strong reinforcements of natives, women as well as men (and the women did quite as much work as the men), attracted by the unusual wage payable in cash. In Jerusalem, too, the natives were sent to labour on the roads and to clean up some of the filth that the Turks had allowed to accumulate for years, if not for generations, inside the Holy City. The Army not merely provided work for idle hands but enabled starving bodies to be vitalised. Food was brought into Jerusalem, and with the cash wages old and young labourers could get more than a sufficiency. The native in the hills proved to be a good road repairer, and the boys and women showed an eagerness to earn their daily rates of pay; the men generally looked on and gave directions. It was some time before steam rollers crushed in the surface, but even rammed-in stones were better than mud, and the lorry drivers' tasks became lighter.