Meanwhile there were important happenings at the other end of the line. Gaza was about to submit to the biggest of all her ordeals. She had been a bone of contention for thousands of years. The Pharaohs coveted her and more than 3500 years ago made bloody strife within the environs of the town. Alexander the Great besieged her, and Persians and Arabians opposed that mighty general. The Ptolemies and the Antiochi for centuries fought for Gaza, whose inhabitants had a greater taste for the mart than for the sword, and when the Maccabees were carrying a victorious war through Philistia, the people of Gaza bought off Jonathan, but the Jews occupied the city itself about a century before the Christian era. Later on the place was captured after a year's siege and destroyed, and for long it remained a mass of mouldering ruins. Pompey revived it, making it a free city, and Gabinius extended it close to the harbour, whilst under Caesar and Herod its prosperity and fame increased. In succeeding centuries Gaza's commerce flourished under the Greeks, who founded schools famous for rhetoric and philosophy, till the Mahomedan wave swept over the land in the first half of the seventh century, when the town became a shadow of its former self, though it continued to exist as a centre for trade. The Crusaders made their influence felt, and many are the traces of their period in this ancient city, but Askalon always had more Crusader support. Napoleon's attack on Gaza found Abdallah's army in a very different state of preparedness from von Kress's Turkish army. Nearly all Abdallah's artillery was left behind in a gun park at Jaffa owing to lack of transport, and though he had a numerically superior force he did not like Napoleon's dispositions, and retreated when Kleber moved up the plain to pass between Gaza and the sea, and the cavalry advanced east of the Mound of Hebron, or Ali Muntar, as we know the hill up which Samson is reputed to have carried the gates and bar of Gaza. For nearly a century and a quarter since Napoleon passed forwards and backwards through the town, Gaza pursued the arts of peace in the lethargic spirit which suits the native temperament, but in eight months of 1917 it was the cockpit of strife in the Middle East, and there was often crammed into one day as much fighting energy as was shown in all the battles of the past thirty-five centuries, Napoleon's campaign included.

Fortunately after the battles of March and April nearly all the civilian population left the town for quieter quarters. Some of them on returning must have had difficulty in identifying their homes. In the centre of the town, where bazaars radiated from the quarter of which the Great Mosque was the hub, the houses were a mass of stones and rubble, and the narrow streets and tortuous byways were filled with fallen walls and roofs. The Great Mosque had entirely lost its beauty. We had shelled it because its minaret, one of those delicately fashioned spires which, seen from a distance, lead a traveller to imagine a native town in the East to be arranged on an artistic and orderly plan, was used as a Turkish observation post, and the Mosque itself as an ammunition store. I am told our guns were never laid on to this objective until there was an accident within it which exploded the ammunition. Be that as it may, there was ample justification for shelling the Mosque. I went in to examine the structure a few hours after the Turks had been compelled to evacuate the town, and whilst they were then shelling it with unpleasant severity. Amid the wrecked marble columns, the broken pulpit, the torn and twisted lamps and crumbling walls were hundreds of thousands of rounds of small-arms ammunition, most of it destroyed by explosion. A great shell had cut the minaret in half and had left exposed telephone wires leading direct to army headquarters and to the Turkish gunners' fire control station. Most of the Mosque furniture and all the carpets had been removed, but a few torn copies of the Koran, some of them in manuscript with marginal notes, lay mixed up with German newspapers and some typical Turkish war propaganda literature. That Mosque, which Saladin seized from the Crusaders and turned from a Christian into a Mahomedan place of worship, was unquestionably used for military purposes, and the Turks cared as little for its religious character or its venerable age as they did for the mosque on Nebi Samwil, where the remains of the Prophet Samuel are supposed to rest. Their stories of the trouble taken to avoid military contact with holy places and sites were all bunkum and eyewash. They would have fought from the walls of the Holy City and placed machine-gun nests in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Mosque of Omar if they had thought it would spare them the loss of Jerusalem.

Gaza had, as I have said, been turned into a fortress with a mass of field works, in places of considerable natural strength. If our force had been on the defensive at Gaza the Germans would not have attacked without an army of at least three times our strength. It is doubtful if the Turks put as much material in use on Gallipoli as they did here. Their trenches were deeply cut and were protected by an immense amount of wire. In the sand-dune area they used a vast quantity of sandbags, and they met the shortage of jute stuffs by making small sacks of bedstead hangings and curtains which, in the dry heat of the summer, wore very well. Looking across No Man's Land one could easily pick out a line of trenches by a red, a vivid blue, or a saffron sandbag. The Turkish dug-outs were most elaborate places of security. The excavators had gone down into the hard earth well beneath the deep strata of sand, and they roofed these holes with six, eight, and sometimes ten layers of palm logs. We had seen these beautiful trees disappearing and had guessed the reason. But an even greater protection than the devices of military engineers had been provided for the Turks by Dame Nature. Along the southern outskirts of the town all the fields were enclosed by giant cactus hedges, sometimes with stems as thick as a man's body and not infrequently rearing their strong limbs and prickly leaves twenty feet above the ground. The hedges were deep as well as high. They were at once a screen for defending troops and a barrier as impenetrable as the walls of a fortress. If one line of cactus hedges had been cut through, infantry would have found another and yet another to a depth of nearly two miles, and as the whole of these thorny enclosures were commanded by a few machine guns the possibility of getting through was almost hopeless. There were similar hedges on the eastern and western sides of Gaza, but they were not quite so deep as on the south. On the western side, and extending south as far as the desert which the Army had crossed with such steady, methodical, and one may also say painful progression, was a wide belt of yellow sand, sometimes settled down hard under the weight of heavy winds, and in other places yielding to the pressure of feet. The Turks had laboured hard in this mile and a half width of sand, right down to the sea, to protect their right flank. There was a point about 4000 yards due west from the edge of the West Town of Gaza which we called Sea Post. It was the western extremity of the enemy's exceedingly intricate system of defences. The beach was below the level of the Post. From Sea Post for about 1500 yards the Turkish front line ran to Rafa Redoubt. There were wired-in entrenchments with strong points here and there, and a series of communication trenches and redoubts behind them for 3000 yards to Sheikh Hasan, which was the port of Gaza, if you can so describe an open roadstead with no landing facilities. From Rafa Redoubt the contour of the sand dunes permitted the enemy to construct an exceedingly strong line running due south for 2000 yards, the strongest points being named by us Zowaid trench, El Burj trench, Triangle trench, Peach Orchard, and El Arish Redoubt, the nomenclature being reminiscent of the trials of the troops in the desert march. Behind this line there was many a sunken passageway and shelter from gunfire, while backing the whole system, and, for reasons I have given, an element of defence as strong as the prepared positions, were cactus hedges enclosing the West Town's gardens.

From El Arish Redoubt the line ran east again to Mazar trench with a prodigal expenditure of wire in front of it, and then south for several hundred yards, when it was thrown out to the south-west to embrace a position of high importance known as Umbrella Hill, a dune of blazing yellow sand facing, about 500 yards away, Samson's Ridge, which we held strongly and on which the enemy often concentrated his fire. This ended the Turks' right-half section of the Gaza defences. Close by passed what from time immemorial has been called the Cairo Road, a track worn down by caravans of camels moving towards Kantara on their way with goods for Egyptian bazaars. But there was no break in the trench system which ran across the plain, a beautiful green tinted with the blooms of myriads of wild flowers when we first advanced over it in March, now browned and dried up by absolutely cloudless summer days. In the gardens on the western slopes of the hills running south from Ali Muntar the Turk had achieved much spadework, but he had done far more work on the hills themselves, and these were a frame of fortifications for Ali Muntar, on which we once sat for a few hours, and the possession of which meant the reduction of Gaza. By the end of summer the hill of Muntar had lost its shape. When we saw it during the first battle of Gaza it was a bold feature surmounted by a few trees and the whitened walls and grey dome of a sheikh's tomb. In the earlier battles of 1917 much was done to ruffle Muntar's crest. We saw trees uprooted, others lose their limbs, and naval gunfire threatened the foundations of the old chief's burying place. But Ali Muntar stoutly resisted the heavy shells' attack. As if Samson's feat had endowed it with some of the strong man's powers, Muntar for a long time received its daily thumps stoically; but by degrees the resistance of the old hill declined, and when agents reported that the sheikh's tomb was used as an observation post, 8-inch howitzers got on to it and made it untenable. There was a bit of it left at the end, but not more than would offer protection from a rifle bullet, and the one tree left standing was a limbless trunk. The crest of the hill lost its roundness, and the soil which had worked out through the shell craters had changed the colour of the summit. Old Ali Muntar had had the worst of the bombardment, and if some future sheikh should choose the site for a summer residence he will come across a wealth of metal in digging his foundations.

To capture Gaza the Formidable it was proposed first to take the western defences from Umbrella Hill to Sea Post, to press on to Sheikh Hasan and thus turn the right flank of the whole position. That would compel the enemy to reinforce his right flank when he was being heavily attacked elsewhere, and if he had been transferring his reserves to meet the threat against the left of his main line after Beersheba had been won for the Empire he would be in sore trouble. Gaza had already tasted a full sample of the war food we intended it should consume. Before the attack on Beersheba had developed, ships of war and the heavy guns of XXIst Corps had rattled its defences. The warships' fire was chiefly directed on targets our land guns could not reach. Observers in aircraft controlled the fire and notified the destruction of ammunition dumps at Deir Sineid and other places. The work of the heavy batteries was watched with much interest. Some were entirely new batteries which had never been in action against any enemy, and they only arrived on the Gaza front five weeks before the battle. These were not allowed to register until shortly before the battle began, and they borrowed guns from other batteries in order to train the gun crews. So desirous was General Bulfin to conceal the concentration of heavies that the wireless code calls were only those used by batteries which were in position before his Corps was formed, and the volume of fire came as an absolute surprise to the enemy. It came as a surprise also to some of us in camp at G.H.Q. one night at the end of October. Suddenly there was a terrific burst of fire on about four miles of front. Vivid fan-shaped flashes stabbed the sky, the bright moonlight of the East did not dim the guns' lightning, and their thunderous voices were a challenge the enemy was powerless to refuse. He took it up slowly as if half ashamed of his weakness. Then his fire increased in volume and in strength, but it ebbed again and we knew the reason. We held some big 'stuff' for counter battery work, and our fire was effective.

The preliminary bombardment began on October 27 and it grew in intensity day by day. The Navy co-operated on October 29 and subsequent days. The whole line from Middlesex Hill (close to Outpost Hill) to the sea was subjected to heavy fire, all the routes to the front line were shelled during the night by 60-pounder and field-gun batteries. Gas shells dosed the centres of communication and bivouac areas, and every quarter of the defences was made uncomfortable. The sound-ranging sections told us the enemy had between sixteen and twenty-four guns south of Gaza, and from forty to forty-eight north of the town, and over 100 guns were disclosed, including more than thirty firing from the Tank Redoubt well away to the eastward. On October 29 some of the guns south of Gaza had been forced back by the severity of our counter battery work, and of the ten guns remaining between us and the town on that date all except four had been removed by November 2. For several nights the bombardment continued without a move by infantry. Then just at the moment von Kress was discussing the loss of Beersheba and his plans to meet our further advance in that direction, some infantry of the 75th Division raided Outpost Hill, the southern extremity of the entrenched hill system south of Ali Muntar, and killed far more Turks than they took prisoners. There was an intense bombardment of the enemy's works at the same time. The next night - November 1-2 - was the opening of XXIst Corps' great attack on Gaza, and though the enemy did not leave the town or the remainder of the trenches we had not assaulted till nearly a week afterwards, the vigour of the attack and the bravery with which it was thrust home, and the subsequent total failure of counter-attacks, must have made the enemy commanders realise on the afternoon of November 2 that Gaza was doomed and that their boasts that Gaza was impregnable were thin air. Their reserves were on the way to their left where they were urgently wanted, there was nothing strong enough to replace such heavy wastage caused to them by the attack of the night of November 1 and the morning of the 2nd, and our big gains of ground were an enormous advantage to us for the second phase in the Gaza sector, for we had bitten deeply into the Turks' right flank.

Like the concentration of the XXth Corps and the Desert Mounted Corps for the jump off on to Beersheba, the preparations against the Turks' extreme right had to be very secretly made. The XXIst Corps Commander had to look a long way ahead. He had to consider the possibility of the enemy abandoning Gaza when Beersheba was captured, and falling back to the line of the wadi Hesi. His troops had been confined to trench warfare for months, digging and sitting in trenches, putting out wire, going out on listening patrols, sniping and doing all the drudgery in the lines of earthworks. They were hard and strong, their health having considerably improved since the early summer, but at the end of September the infantry were by no means march fit. Realising that, if General Allenby's operations were successful, and no one doubted that, we should have a period of open warfare when troops would be called upon to make long marches and undergo the privations entailed by transport difficulties, General Bulfin brought as many men as he could spare from the trenches back to Deir el Belah and the coast, where they had route marches over the sand for the restoration of their marching powers. Gradually he accumulated supplies in sheltered positions just behind the front. In three dumps were collected seven days' mobile rations, ammunition, water, and engineers' material. Tracks were constructed, cables buried, concealed gun positions and brigade and battalion headquarters made, and from the 25th October troops were ready to move off with two days' rations on the man. Should the enemy retire, General Hill's 52nd (Lowland) Division was to march up the shore beneath the sand cliffs, get across the wadi Hesi at the mouth, detach a force to proceed towards Askalon, and then move eastward down to the ridge opposite Deir Sineid, and, by securing the bridge and crossings of the wadi Hesi, prevent the enemy establishing himself on the north bank of the wadi. The operations on the night of November 1-2 were conducted by Major-General Hare, commanding the 54th Division, to which General Leggatt's 156th Infantry Brigade was temporarily attached. The latter brigade was given the important task of capturing Umbrella Hill and El Arish Redoubt. Umbrella Hill was to be taken first, and as it was anticipated the enemy would keep up a strong artillery fire for a considerable time after the position had been taken, and that his fire would interfere with the assembly and advance of troops detailed for the second phase, the first phase was timed to start four hours earlier than the second. For several days the guns had opened intense fire at midnight and again at 3 A.M. so that the enemy should not attach particular importance to our artillery activity on the night of action, and a creeping barrage nightly swept across No Man's Land to clear off the chain of listening posts established 300 yards in front of the enemy's trenches. Some heavy banks of cloud moved across the sky when the Scottish Rifle Brigade assembled for the assault, but the moon shed sufficient light at intervals to enable the Scots to file through the gaps made in our wire and to form up on the tapes laid outside. At 11 P.M. the 7th Scottish Rifles stormed Umbrella Hill with the greatest gallantry. The first wave of some sixty-five officers and men was blown up by four large contact mines and entirely destroyed. The second wave passed over the bodies of their comrades without a moment's check and, moving through the wire smashed by our artillery, entered Umbrella Hill trenches and set about the Turks with their bayonets. They had to clear a maze of trenches and dug-outs, but they bombed out of existence the machine-gunners opposing them and had settled the possession of Umbrella Hill in half an hour.

The 4th Royal Scots led the attack on El Arish Redoubt. It was a bigger and noisier 'show' than the Royal Scots had had some months before, when in a 'silent' raid they killed with hatchets only, for the Scots had seen the condition of some of their dead left in Turkish hands and were taking retribution. Not many Turks in El Arish Redoubt lived to relate that night's story. The Scots were rapidly in the redoubt and were rapidly through it, cleared up a nasty corner known as the 'Little Devil,' and were just about to shelter from the shells which were to answer their attack when they caught a brisk fire from a Bedouin hut. A platoon leader disposed his men cleverly and rushed the hut, killing everybody in it and capturing two machine guns. The vigorous resistance of the Turks on Umbrella Hill and El Arish Redoubt resulted in our having to bury over 350 enemy dead in these positions.

The second phase was to attack the enemy's front-line system from El Arish Redoubt to the sea at Sea Post. At 3 A.M., after the enemy guns had plentifully sprinkled Umbrella Hill and had given it up as irretrievably lost, we opened a ten-minutes' intense bombardment of the front line, exactly as had been done on preceding mornings, but this time the 161st and 162nd Infantry Brigades followed up our shells and carried 3000 yards of trenches at once. Three-quarters of an hour afterwards the 163rd Infantry Brigade tried to get the support trenches several hundred yards in rear, but the difficulties were too many and the effort failed. Having secured Sea Post and Beach Post the 162nd Brigade completed the programme by advancing up the coast and capturing the 'port' of Gaza, Sheikh Hasan, with a considerable body of prisoners.

The enemy's guns remained active until seven o'clock, when they reserved their fire till the afternoon. Then a heavy counter-attack was seen to be developing by an aerial observer, whose timely warning enabled the big guns and warships to smash it up. Another counter-attack against Sheikh Hasan was repulsed later in the day, and a third starting from Crested Rock which aimed at getting back El Burj trench was a complete failure. After the second phase our troops buried 739 enemy dead. Without doubt there were many others killed and wounded in the unsuccessful counter-attacks, particularly the first against Sheikh Hasan, when many heavy shells were seen to fall in the enemy's ranks. We took prisoners 26 officers, including two battalion commanders, and 418 other ranks. Our casualties were 30 officers and 331 other ranks killed, 94 officers and 1869 other ranks wounded, and 10 officers and 362 other ranks missing. Considering the enormous strength of the positions attacked, the numbers engaged, and the fact that we secured enemy front 5000 yards long and 3000 yards deep, the losses were not more severe than might have been expected.

The Turks clung to their trenches with a tenacity equal to that which characterised their defences on Gallipoli, and officer prisoners told us they had been ordered to hold Gaza at all costs. That was good news, though even if they had got back to the wadi Hesi line it is doubtful if, when Sheria was taken, they could have done more than temporarily hold us up there. During the next few days the work against the enemy's right consisted of heavy bombardments on the line of hills running from the north-east to the south of Gaza, and on the prominent position of Sheikh Redwan, east of the port. The enemy made some spirited replies, notably on the 4th, but his force in Gaza was getting shaken, and prisoners reluctantly admitted that the heavy naval shells taking them in flank and rear were affecting the moral of the troops. The gunfire of Rear-Admiral Jackson's fleet of H.M.S. Grafton, Raglan, Monitors 15, 29, 31, and 32, river-gunboats Ladybird and Amphis, and the destroyers Staunch and Comet, was worthy of the King's Navy. They were assisted by the French battleship Requin. We lost a monitor and destroyer torpedoed by a submarine, but the marks of the Navy's hard hitting were on and about Gaza, and we heard, if we could not see, the best the ships were doing. On one day there was a number of explosions about Deir Sineid indicating the destruction of some of the enemy's reserve of ammunition, and while the Turks were still in Gaza they received a shock resembling nothing more than an earthquake. One of the ships - the Raglan, I believe - taking a signal from a seaplane, got a direct hit on an ammunition train at Beit Hanun, the railway terminus north of Gaza. The whole train went up and its load was scattered in fragments over an area of several hundred square yards, an extraordinary scene of wreckage of torn and twisted railway material and destroyed ammunition presenting itself to us when we got on the spot on November 7. There was another very fine example of the Navy's indirect fire a short distance northward of this railway station. A stone road bridge had been built over the wadi Hesi and it had to carry all heavy traffic, the banks of the wadi being too steep and broken to permit wheels passing down them as they stood. During our advance the engineers had to build ramps here. A warship, taking its line from an aeroplane, fired at the bridge from a range of 14,000 yards, got two direct hits on it and holed it in the centre, and there must have been thirty or forty shell craters within a radius of fifty yards. The confounding of the Turks was ably assisted by the Navy.