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Hell in the Holy Land

World War I in the Middle East

David R. Woodward

Publication Year: 2014

In the modern popular imagination, the British Army's campaign in the Middle East during World War I is considered somehow less brutal than the fighting on European battlefields. A romantic view of this conflict has been further encouraged by such films as Lawrence of Arabia and The Light Horsemen. In Hell in the Holy Land, David R. Woodward uses graphic eyewitness accounts from the diaries, letters, and memoirs of British soldiers who fought in that war to describe in rigorous detail the genuine experience of the fighting and dying in Egypt and Palestine. The massive flow of troops and equipment to Egypt eventually made that country host to the largest British military base outside of Britain and France. Though many soldiers found the atmosphere in Cairo exotic, the desert countryside made the fundamentals of fighting and troop maintenance extremely difficult. The intense heat frequently sickened soldiers, and unruly camels were the only practical means of transport across the soft sands of the Sinai. The constant shortage of potable water was a persistent problem for the troops; one soldier recalled, "It is impossible to realize the depth a man will sink to endeavor to appease the terrible horror of thirst." The voices of these British soldiers offer a forgotten perspective of the Great War, describing not only the physical and psychological toll of combat but the daily struggles of soldiers who were stationed in an unfamiliar environment that often proved just as antagonistic as the enemy. A soldier of the Dorset Yeomanry, stationed in Egypt, wrote: "There are three sounds in Egypt which never cease -- the creaking of the waterwheels, the song of the frogs, and the buzz of flies.... Letter writing is an impossibility in the evening, for as soon as the sun goes down, if a lamp is lighted, the air all round is thick with little grey sand-flies which bite disgustingly." Using archival records, many from the Imperial War Museum in London, England, Woodward paints a vivid picture of the mayhem, terror, boredom, filth, and sacrifice that marked the daily life of British soldiers in the Middle East. In telling the story of these soldiers, Woodward provides a personal history of a campaign that laid the groundwork for the continuing turmoil in the Middle East.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky


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pp. C-C1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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p. v-v

List of Maps

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p. vi-vi

List of Abbreviations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

The British soldiers in Egypt and Palestine whose own words constitute a large part of this book fought in a theater very different from France and Flanders. The Egyptian Expeditionary Force, advancing some 500 miles from the Suez Canal to Aleppo, marched in the footprints of ancient...

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pp. xii-xiv

Writing history has always been a collective effort for me, and I owe a great debt to Marshall University and its faculty and staff members, who have afforded me support. The university provided assistance in many ways: a summer research grant, a reduced teaching load for several semesters,...

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1. Eastward Bound

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pp. 1-14

In September 1915, Private A. S. Benbow experienced perhaps the most exciting day of his young life. He had worked for London Assurance in Pall Mall before his Yeomanry unit had been mobilized. Marching through the streets of Liverpool, he was on his way to a foreign land. His...

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2. Land of the Pharaohs

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pp. 15-32

The massive flow of troops and equipment to Egypt eventually made that country the greatest British military base outside of Britain and France. Before 1916, however, the actual defense of the Empires lifeline, the Suez Canal, depended almost entirely on Indian troops. The original...

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3. Clearing the Sinai

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pp. 33-55

On Christmas Day 1916, with British troops occupying El Arish, Brigadier General Guy Payan Dawnay described the accomplishments of the Eastern Force, of which he was chief of staff: "It really has been an extraordinary 'campaign,' this one in Sinai," he wrote his wife. It necessitated the fitting out of much the biggest desert column that there has..

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4. Johnny Turk Triumphant

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pp. 56-80

In late March 1917 the Eastern Force was on the move, advancing in stages along the coastal road toward Gaza, whose very name meant fortress. The infantry began its march as darkness approached to avoid the prying eyes of Turkish aircraft. "The sensations of the march were rather...

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5. "Bloody Bull's Loose"

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pp. 81-103

As the Eastern Force butted its head against the Gaza defenses in April, General Sir Edmund Allenby's Third Army found itself in a similarly futile operation on the western front. The Battle of Arras had gotten off to a promising start with the Canadians capturing Vimy Ridge. For a...

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6. Breakout

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pp. 104-121

On October 30, Blunt of the Civil Service Rifles and Calcutt of the Queens Westminster Rifles, 179th Brigade, 60th Division, prepared for the final approach march to Beersheba. Their route took them across a wilderness of bare, rocky hills and numerous wadis. Allenby wanted the...

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7. Relentless Pursuit

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pp. 122-137

The Turks were driven into the open and on the run, with columns of Turkish infantry and transport streaming northward to escape capture. The decisive moment had arrived for Allenby's enormous mounted force, considered the strength of his army. Never before, in fact, had a...

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8. Sacred Soil

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pp. 138-157

With Junction Station in the hands of the British, the Turks lost their railway connection to Jerusalem. The Turkish 7th Army retired into the hills around Jerusalem, and the Turkish 8th Army retreated northward along the coastal plain toward Jaffa. Faced with mounting logistical...

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9. Changing Priorities

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pp. 158-175

If Lloyd George had his way, the Middle East would become the focus of Britain's military effort in 1918. His agile mind saw political as well as military advantages in giving priority to Allenby's forces. With Russia faltering and with France in a defensive mood after its army mutinied,...

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10. Jordan Valley

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pp. 176-189

On April 1,1918, Allenby described the impact of the German March 21 offensive to the military correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, Captain C. W. Battine: "Here, I have raided the Hedjaz railway, 40 miles East of Jordan, & have done much damage but my little show dwindles now into...

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11. Megiddo

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pp. 190-206

Megiddo is located on the southern end of the Plain of Esdraelon, where it commands the roads connecting Palestine with Syria. This ancient settlement has been the scene of many battles. It is also the site of Armageddon, which, according to the Book of Revelation, is where the final battle...

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pp. 207-209

It is the rash person indeed who offers sweeping generalizations about the experiences of British soldiers serving in the Great War. Each soldier reacted in his own and different way to the routine of army life, his theater of operations, and combat. Having said this, it is still possible to...


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pp. 210-233


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pp. 234-240


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pp. 241-254


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pp. 255-264

E-ISBN-13: 9780813146737
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813123837

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2014