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.

General Chetwode's plan was to secure a line from Obeid, 9000 yards east of Bethlehem, the hill of Zamby covering the Jericho road three miles from Jerusalem, Anata, Hismeh, Jeba, Burkah, Beitun, El Balua, Kh. el Burj, Deir Ibzia to Shilta. The scheme was to strike with the 53rd and 60th Divisions astride the Jerusalem-Nablus road, and at the same time to push the 10th Division and a part of the 74th Division eastwards from the neighbourhood of Tahta and Foka. The weather again became bad on December 14 and the troops suffered great discomfort from heavy rains and violent, cold winds, so that only light operations were undertaken. On the 17th the West Kent and Sussex battalions of the 160th Brigade stalked the high ground east of Abu Dis at dawn, and at the cost of only 26 casualties took the ridge with 5 officers and 121 other ranks prisoners, and buried 46 enemy dead. One battalion went up the hill on one side, while the Sussex crept up the opposite side, the Turks being caught between two fires. The 53rd Division also improved their position on the 21st December. As one leaves Bethany and proceeds down the Jericho road one passes along a steep zigzag with several hairpin bends until one reaches a guardhouse near a well about a mile east of Bethany. The road still falls smartly, following a straighter line close to a wadi bed, but hills rise very steeply from the highway, and for its whole length until it reaches the Jordan valley the road is always covered by high bare mountains. Soon after leaving the zigzag there is a series of three hills to the north of the road. It was important to obtain possession of two of these hills, the first called Zamby and the second named by the Welsh troops 'Whitehill,' from the bright limestone outcrop at the crest. The 159th Brigade attacked and gained Zamby and then turned nearer the Jericho road to capture Whitehill. The Turks resisted very stoutly, and there was heavy fighting about the trenches just below the top of the hill. By noon the brigade had driven the enemy off, but three determined counter-attacks were delivered that day and the next and the brigade lost 180 killed and wounded. The Turks suffered heavily in the counter-attacks and left over 50 dead behind them; also a few prisoners. At a later date there was further strong fighting around this hill, and at one period it became impossible for either side to hold it.

By the 21st there was a readjustment of the line on the assumption that the XXth Corps would attack the Turks on Christmas Day, the 53rd Division taking over the line as far north as the wadi Anata, the 60th Division extending its left to include Nebi Samwil, and the 74th going as far west as Tahta. As a preliminary to the big movement the 180th Brigade was directed to move on Kh. Adaseh, a hill between Tel el Ful and Tawil, in the early hours of December 23, and the 181st Brigade was to seize a height about half a mile north of Beit Hannina. The latter attack succeeded, but despite the most gallant and repeated efforts the 180th Brigade was unable to gain the summit of Adaseh, though they got well up the hill. The weather became bad once more, and meteorological reports indicated no improvement in the conditions for at least twenty-four hours, and as the moving forward of artillery and supplies was impossible in the rain, General Chetwode with the concurrence of G.H.Q. decided that the attack should not be made on Christmas Day. The 60th Division thereupon did not further prosecute their attack on Adaseh. On the 24th December, while General Chetwode was conferring with his divisional commanders, information was brought in that the Turks were making preparations to recapture Jerusalem by an attack on the 60th Division, and the Corps Commander decided that the moment the enemy was found to be fully committed to this attack the 10th Division and one brigade of the 74th Division would fall on the enemy's right and advance over the Zeitun, Kereina, and Ibzia ridges. How well this plan worked out was shown before the beginning of the New Year, by which time we had secured a great depth of ground at a cost infinitely smaller than could have been expected if the Turks had remained on the defensive, while the Turkish losses, at a moment when they required to preserve every fighting man, were much greater than we could have hoped to inflict if they had not come into the open. There was never a fear that the enemy would break through. We had commanding positions everywhere, and the more one studied our line on the chain of far-flung hills the more clearly one realised the prevision and military skill of General Chetwode and the staff of the XXth Corps in preparing the plans for its capture before the advance on Jerusalem was started. The 'fourth objective' of December 8-9 well and truly laid the foundations for Jerusalem's security, and relieved the inhabitants from the accumulated burdens of more than three years of war. We had nibbled at pieces of ground to flatten out the line here and there, but in the main the line the Turks assaulted was that fourth objective. The Turks put all their hopes on their last card. It was trumped; and when we had won the trick there was not a soldier in General Allenby's Army nor a civilian in the Holy City who had not a profound belief in the coming downfall of the Turkish Empire.

Troops in the line and in bivouac spent the most cheerless Christmas Day within their memories. Not only in the storm-swept hills but on the Plain the day was bitterly cold, and the gale carried with it heavy rain clouds which passed over the tops of mountains and rolled up the valleys in ceaseless succession, discharging hail and rain in copious quantities. The wadis became roaring, tearing torrents fed by hundreds of tributaries, and men who had sought shelter on the lee side of rocks often found water pouring over them in cascades. The whole country became a sea of mud, and the trials of many months of desert sand were grateful and comforting memories. Transport columns had an unhappy time: the Hebron road was showing many signs of wear, and it was a long journey for lorries from Beersheba when the retaining walls were giving way and a foot-deep layer of mud invited a skid every yard. The Latron-Jerusalem road was better going, but the soft metal laid down seemed to melt under the unceasing traffic in the wet, and in peace time this highway would have been voted unfit for traffic. The worst piece of road, however, was also the most important. The Nablus road where it leaves Jerusalem was wanted to supply a vital point on our front. It could not be used during the day because it was under observation, and anything moving along it was liberally dosed with shells. Nor could its deplorable condition be improved by working parties. The ground was so soft on either side of it that no gun, ammunition, or supply limber could leave the track, and whatever was required for man, or beast, or artillery had to be carried across the road in the pitch-black hours of night. Supplies were only got up to the troops after infinite labour, yet no one went hungry. Boxing Day was brighter, and there were hopes of a period of better weather. During the morning there were indications that an enemy offensive was not far off, and these were confirmed about noon by information that the front north of Jerusalem would be attacked in the night. General Chetwode thereupon ordered General Longley to start his offensive on the left of the XXth Corps line at dawn next morning. Shortly before midnight the Turks began their operations against the line held by the 60th Division across the Nablus road precisely where it had been expected. They attacked in considerable strength at Ras et Tawil and about the quarries held by our outposts north of that hill, and the outposts were driven in. About the same time the 24th Welsh Regiment - dismounted yeomanry - made the enemy realise that we were on the alert, for they assaulted and captured a hill quite close to Et Tireh, just forestalling an attack by a Turkish storming battalion, and beat off several determined counter-attacks, as a result of which the enemy left seventy killed with the bayonet and also some machine guns on the hill slopes.

The night was dark and misty, and by half-past one the Turks had developed a big attack against the whole of the 60th Division's front, the strongest effort being delivered on the line in front of Tel el Ful, though there was also very violent fighting on the west of the wadi Ed Dunn, north of Beit Hannina. The Turks fought with desperate bravery. They had had no food for two days, and the commander of one regiment told his men: 'There are no English in front of you. I have been watching the enemy lines for a long time; they are held by Egyptians, and I tell you there are no English there. You have only to capture two hills and you can go straight into Jerusalem and get food. It is our last chance of getting Jerusalem, and if we fail we shall have to go back.' This officer gave emphatic orders that British wounded were not to be mutilated. Between half-past one and eight A.M. the Turks attacked in front of Tel el Ful eight times, each attack being stronger than the last. Tel el Ful is a conical hill covered with huge boulders, and on the top is a mass of rough stones and ruined masonry. The Turks had registered well and severely shelled our position before making an assault, and they covered the advance with machine guns. In one attack made just after daybreak the enemy succeeded in getting into a short length of line, but men of the 2/15th Londons promptly organised a counter-attack and, advancing with fine gallantry, though their ranks were thinned by a tremendous enfilade fire from artillery and machine guns, they regained the sangars. For several hours after eight o'clock this portion of the line was quieter, but the Turk was reorganising for a last effort. A very brilliant defence had been made during the night of Beit Hannina by the 2/24th Londons, which battalion was commanded by a captain, the colonel and the majors being on the sick list. The two companies in the line were attacked four times by superior numbers, the last assault being delivered by more than five hundred men, but the defenders stood like rocks, and though they had fifty per cent, of their number killed or wounded, and the Turks got close to the trenches, the enemy were crushingly defeated.

The morning lull was welcome. Our troops got some rest though their vigilance was unrelaxed, and few imagined that the Turks had yet given up the attempt to reach Jerusalem. We were ready to meet a fresh effort, but the strength with which it was delivered surprised everybody. The Turk, it seemed, was prepared to stake everything on his last throw. He knew quite early on that morning that his Caucasus Division could not carry out the role assigned to it. General Chetwode had countered him by smashing in with his left with a beautiful weighty stroke precisely at the moment when the Turk had compromised himself elsewhere, and instead of being able to put in his reserves to support his main attack the enemy had to divert them to stave off an advance which, if unhindered, would threaten the vital communications of the attackers north of Jerusalem.

It was a remarkable situation, but all the finesse in the art of war was on one side. Every message the Turkish Commander received from his right must have reported progress against him. Each signal from the Jerusalem front must have been equally bitter, summing up want of progress and heavy losses. With us, Time was a secondary factor; with the Turk, Time was the whole essence of the business, so he pledged his all on one tremendous final effort. It was almost one o'clock when it started, and it was made against the whole front of our XXth Corps. It was certainly made in unexpected strength and with a courage beyond praise. The Turk threw himself forward to the assault with the violence of despair, and his impetuous onrush enabled him to get into some small elements of our front line; but counter-attacks immediately organised drove him out. Over the greater portion of the front the advance was stopped dead, but in some places the enemy tried a whirlwind rush and used bomb against bomb. He had met his match.

The 60th Division which bore the brunt of the onslaught, as it was bound to do from its position astride the main road, was absolutely unbreakable, and at Tel el Ful there lay a dead Turk for every yard of its front. The enemy drew off, but to save the remnants of his storming troops kept our positions from near Ras et Tawil, Tel el Ful to the wadi Beit Hannina under heavy gunfire for the rest of the day. The Turk was hopelessly beaten, his defeat irretrievable. He had delivered thirteen costly attacks, and his sole gains were the exposed outpost positions at the Tawil and the quarries. All his reserves had been vigorously engaged, while at two o'clock in the afternoon General Chetwode had in reserve nineteen battalions less one company still unused, and the care exercised in keeping this large body of troops fresh for following up the Turkish defeat undoubtedly contributed to the great success of the advances on the next three days. Simultaneously with their attack on the 60th Division positions the Turks put in a weighty effort to oust the 53rd Division from the positions they held north and south of the Jericho road. Whether in their wildest dreams they imagined they could enter Jerusalem by this route is doubtful, but if they had succeeded in driving in our line on the north they would have put the 53rd Division in a perilous position on the east with only one avenue of escape. The Turks concentrated their efforts on Whitehill and Zamby. A great fight raged round the former height and we were driven off it, but the divisional artillery so sprinkled the crest with shell that the Turk could not occupy it, and it became No Man's Land until the early evening when the 7th Royal Welsh Fusiliers recaptured and held it. The contest for Zamby lasted all day, and for a long time it was a battle of bombs and machine guns, so closely together were the fighting men, but the Turks never got up to our sangars and were finally driven off with heavy loss, over 100 dead being left on the hill. The Turkish ambulances were seen hard at work on the Jericho road throughout the day. There was a stout defence of a detached post at Ibn Obeid. A company of the 2/10th Middlesex Regiment had been sent on to Obeid, about five miles east of Bethlehem, to watch for the enemy moving about the rough tracks in that bare and broken country which falls away in jagged hills and sinuous valleys to the Dead Sea. The little garrison, whose sole shelter was a ruined monastic building on the hill, were attacked at dawn by 700 Turkish cavalry supported by mountain guns. The garrison stood fast all day though practically surrounded, and every attack was beaten off. The Turks tried again and again to secure the hill, which commands a track to Bethlehem, but, although they fired 400 shells at the position, they could not enter it, and a battalion sent up to relieve the Middlesex men next morning found that the company had driven the enemy off, its casualties having amounted to only 2 killed and 17 wounded. Thus did the 'Die Hards' live up to the traditions of the regiment.

Having dealt with the failure of the Turkish attacks against the 60th and 53rd Divisions in front of Jerusalem, let us change our view point and focus attention on the left sector of XXth Corps, where the enemy was feeling the full power of the Corps at a time when he most wished to avoid it. General Longley had organised his attacking columns in three groups. On the right the 229th Brigade of the 74th Division was set the task of moving from the wadi Imeish to secure the high ground of Bir esh Shafa overlooking Beitunia; the 31st Brigade, starting from near Tahta, attacked north of the wadi Sunt, to drive the enemy from a line from Jeriut through Hafy to the west of the olive orchards near Ain Arik; while the left group, composed of the 29th and 30th Brigades, aimed at getting Shabuny across the wadi Sad, and Sheikh Abdallah where they would have the Australian Mounted Division on their left. The advance started from the left of the line. The 29th Brigade leading, with the 30th Brigade in support, left their positions of deployment at six o'clock, by which time the Turk had had more than he had bargained for north and east of Jerusalem. The 1st Leinsters and 5th Connaught Rangers found the enemy in a stubborn mood west of Deir Ibzia, but they broke down the opposition in the proper Irish style and rapidly reached their objectives. The centre group started one hour after the left and got their line without much difficulty. The right group was hotly opposed. Beginning their advance at eight o'clock the 229th Brigade had reached the western edge of the famous Zeitun ridge in an hour, but from this time onwards they were exposed to incessant artillery and machine-gun fire, and the forward movement became very slow. In five hours small parties had worked along the ridge for about half its length, fighting every yard, and it was not until the approach of dusk that we once more got control of the whole ridge. It was appropriate that dismounted yeomen should gain this important tactical point which several weeks previously had been won and lost by their comrades of the Yeomanry Mounted Division. Descending from the ridge the brigade gave the Turk little chance to stand, and with a bayonet charge they reached the day's objective in the dark. At two o'clock, when the Turks' final effort against Jerusalem had just failed, the 60th and 74th Divisions both sent in the good news that the Turkish commander was moving his reserve division from Bireh westwards to meet the attack from our left. Airmen confirmed this immediately, and it was now obvious that General Chetwode's tactics had compelled the enemy to conform to his movements and that we had regained the initiative. At about ten o'clock the 24th Royal Welsh Fusiliers of the 231st Brigade captured Kh. ed Dreihemeh on the old Roman road a mile east of Tireh, and at eleven o'clock advanced to the assault of hill 2450, a little farther eastward. They gained the crest, but the enemy had a big force in the neighbourhood and counter-attacked, forcing the Welshmen to withdraw some distance down the western slope. They held this ground till 4.30 when our guns heavily bombarded the summit, under cover of which fire the infantry made another attack. This was also unsuccessful owing to the intense volume of fire from machine guns. The hill was won, however, next morning.

The night of December 27-28 was without incident. The Turk had staked and lost, and he spent the night in making new dispositions to meet what he must have realised was being prepared for him on the following day.

It is doubtful whether there was a more successful day for our Army in the Palestine campaign than December 27. The portion of our line which was on the defensive had stood an absolutely unmovable wall, against which the enemy had battered himself to pieces. Our left, or attacking sector, had gained all their objectives against strong opposition in a most difficult country, and had drawn against them the very troops held in reserve for the main attack on Jerusalem. The physical powers of some of our attacking troops were tried highly. One position captured by the 229th Brigade was a particularly bad hill. The slope up which the infantry had to advance was a series of almost perpendicular terraces, and the riflemen could only make the ascent by climbing up each others' backs. When dismounted yeomen secured another hill some men carrying up supplies took two hours to walk from the base of the hill to the summit. The trials of the infantry were shared by the artillery. What surprises every one who has been over the route taken by the 10th and 74th Divisions is that any guns except those with the mountain batteries were able to get into action. The road work of engineers and the 5th Royal Irish Regiment (Pioneers) was magnificent, and they made a way where none seemed possible; but though these roadmakers put their backs into their tasks, it was only by the untiring energies of the gunners and drivers that artillery was got up to support the infantry. The guns were brought into action well ahead of the roads, and were man-hauled for considerable distances. Two howitzers and one field gun were kept up with the infantry on the first day of the advance where no horses could get a foothold, and the manner in which the gunners hauled the guns through deep ravines and up seemingly unclimbable hills constituted a wonderful physical achievement. The artillery were called upon to continue their arduous work on the 28th and 29th under conditions of ground which were even more appalling than those met with on the 27th. The whole country was devoid of any road better than a goat track, and the ravines became deeper and the hills more precipitous. In some places, particularly on the 10th Division front, the infantry went forward at a remarkable pace; but guns moved up with them, and by keeping down the fire of machine guns dotted about on every hill, performed services which earned the riflemen's warm praise. The 9th and 10th Mountain Batteries were attached to the 10th Division, but field and howitzer batteries were also well up. On the 28th the 53rd Division bit farther into the enemy's line in order to cover the right of the 60th Division, which was to continue its advance up the Nablus road towards Bireh. The 158th Brigade captured Anata, and after fighting all day the 1/7th Royal Welsh Fusiliers secured Ras Urkub es Suffa, a forbidding-looking height towering above the storm-rent sides of the wadi Ruabeh. The 1/1st Herefords after dark took Kh. Almit.

In front of the 60th Division the Turks were still holding some strong positions from which they should have been able seriously to delay the Londoners' advance had it not been for the threat to their communications by the pressure by the 10th and 74th Divisions. The Londoners had previously tested the strength of Adaseh, and had found it an extremely troublesome hill. They went for it again - the 179th Brigade this time - and after a several hours' struggle took it at dusk. Meanwhile the 181st Brigade had taken the lofty villages of Bir Nebala and El Jib, and after Adaseh became ours the Division went ahead in the dark and got to the line across the Nablus road from Er Ram to Rafat, capturing some prisoners. The 74th Division also made splendid progress. In the early hours the Division, with the 24th Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the 24th Welsh Regiment attached, secured Jufeir and resumed their main advance in the afternoon, the 230th and 231st Brigades cooperating with the 229th Brigade which was under the orders of the 10th Division. Before dark they had advanced their line from the left of the 60th Division in Rafat past the east of Beitunia to the hill east of Abu el Ainein, and this strong line of hills once secured, everybody was satisfied that the Turks' possession of Ramallah and Bireh was only a question of hours. Part of this line had been won by the 10th Division, which began its advance before noon in the same battle formation as on the 27th. Soon after the three groups started the heavy artillery put down a fierce fire on the final objectives, and before three o'clock the Turks were seen to be evacuating Kefr Skyan, Ainein, and Rubin. The enemy put up a stout fight at Beitunia and on a hill several hundred yards north-west of the village, but the 229th Brigade had good artillery and machine-gun assistance, and got both places before four o'clock, capturing seventy prisoners, including the commander of the garrison, and a number of machine guns. The left group was hotly opposed from a hill a mile west of Rubin and from a high position south-west of Ainein. The nature of the ground was entirely favourable to defence and for a time the Turk took full advantage of it, but our artillery soon made him lose his stomach for fighting, and doubtless the sound of many shell-bursts beyond Ramallah made him think that his rock sangars and the deep ravines in front of him were not protection against a foe who fought Nature with as much determination as he fought the Turkish soldier. Six-inch howitzers of the 378th Siege Battery had been brought up to Foka in the early hours, and all the afternoon and evening they were plastering the road from Ramallah along which the enemy were retreating. The left group defied the nests of machine guns hidden among the rocks and broke down the defence. The centre group had been delayed by the opposition encountered by the left, but they took Skyan at six o'clock and all of the objectives for one day were in our hands by the early evening. An advance along the whole front was ordered to begin at six o'clock on December 29. On his right flank the enemy was willing to concede ground, and the 159th Brigade occupied Hismeh, Jeba, and the ridges to the north-west to protect the flank of the 60th Division. The 53rd Division buried 271 enemy dead on their front as the result of three days' fighting. The 181st Brigade made a rapid advance up the Nablus road until they were close to Bireh and Tahunah, a high rocky hill just to the north-west of the village. The Turks had many machine guns and a strong force of riflemen in these places, and it was impossible for infantry to advance against them over exposed ground without artillery support. The 303rd Field Artillery Brigade was supporting the brigade, and they were to move up a track from Kullundia while the foot-sloggers used the high road, but the track was found impassable for wheels and the guns had to be brought to the road. The attack was postponed till the guns were in position. The gunners came into action at half-past two, and infantry moved to the left to get on to the Ramallah-Bireh metalled road which runs at right angles to the trunk road between Nablus and Jerusalem. The 2/22nd and the 2/23rd Londons, working across the road, reached the Tahunah ridge, and after a heavy bombardment dashed into the Turkish positions, which were defended most stubbornly to the end, and thus won the last remaining hill which commanded our advance up the Nablus road as far as Bireh. On the eastern side of the main highway the 180th Brigade had once more done sterling service. There is a bold eminence called Shab Saleh, a mile due south of Bireh. It rises almost sheer from a piece of comparatively flat ground, and the enemy held it in strength. The 2/19th and the 2/20th Londons attacked this feature, and displaying great gallantry in face of much machine-gun fire seized it at half-past three. Once again the gunners supported the infantry admirably. The 2/17th and 2/18th Londons pushed past Saleh in a north-easterly direction and, leaving Bireh on their left, got into extremely bad country and took the Turks by surprise on a wooded ridge at Sheikh Sheiban. The two brigades rested and refreshed for a couple of hours and then advanced once more, and by midnight they had routed the Turks out of another series of hills and were in firm possession of the line from Beitin, across the Nablus road north of the Balua Lake, to the ridge of El Burj, having carried through everything which had been planned for the Division.

Ramallah had been taken at nine o'clock in the morning without opposition by the 230th and 229th Brigades, and at night the 74th Division held a strong line north of the picturesque village as far as Et Tireh. The 10th Division also occupied the Tireh ridge quite early in the day, and one of their field batteries and both mountain batteries got within long range of the Nablus road, and not only assisted in shelling the enemy in Bireh but harassed with a hot fire any bodies of men or transport seen retreating northwards. The Flying Corps, too, caused the Turks many losses on the road. The airmen bombed the enemy from a low altitude and also machine-gunned them, and moreover by their timely information gave great assistance during the operations. By the 30th December all organised resistance to our advance had ceased and the XXth Corps consolidated its line, the 60th Division going forward slightly to improve its position and the other divisions rearranging their own. The consolidation of the line was not an easy matter. It had to be very thoroughly and rapidly done. The supply difficulty compelled the holding of the line with as few troops as possible, and when it had been won it was necessary to put it in a proper order in a minimum of time, and to bring back a considerable number of the troops who had been engaged in the fighting to hold the grand defensive chain which made Jerusalem absolutely safe. The standard gauge railway was still a long way from Ramleh, and the railway construction parties had to fight against bad weather and washouts. The Turkish line from Ramleh to Jerusalem was in bad order; a number of bridges were down, so that it was not likely the railway could be working for several weeks. Lorries could supply the troops in the neighbourhood of the Nablus road, though the highway was getting into bad condition, but in the right centre of the line the difficulties of terrain were appalling. The enemy had had a painful experience of it and was not likely to wish to fight in that country again; consequently it was decided to hold this part of the line with light forces.

In this description of the operations I have made little mention of the work of the Australian Mounted Division which covered the gap between XXth and XXIst Corps. These Australian horsemen and yeomanry guarded an extended front in inaccessible country, and every man in the Division will long remember the troubles of supply in the hills. They had some stiff fighting against a wily enemy, and not for a minute could they relax their vigilance. When, with the Turks' fatal effort to retake Jerusalem, the 10th Division changed their front and attacked in a north-easterly direction, the Australian Mounted Division moved with it, and they found the country as they progressed become more rugged and bleak and extremely difficult for mounted troops. The Division was in the fighting line for the whole month of December, and when they handed over the new positions they had reached to the infantry on the last day of the year, their horses fully needed the lengthened period of rest allotted to them.