WWI in Eretz Israel Centenary – General Allenby Entering Jerusalem (1917)
When WWI broke out in August 1914, the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers (Germany and Austria) against the Allied Countries (Britain, France and Russia). The Great War, as it was called at the time, lasted for more than four years and fundamentally changed world history, including the status of Eretz Israel.
After two failed attacks initiated by the Ottoman military in 1915 and 1916 against the British army in an effort to conquer the Suez Canal, the British decided to go on the offensive. In 1916, British forces made their way across the Sinai desert and in early 1917 they were poised at the southern border of Eretz Israel, facing Turkish forces holding the line from Gaza to Beer Sheba.
In March and April 1917, the British army attacked the Turks in Gaza. Two large offensives were thwarted, despite the use of advanced weapons such as tanks and poison gas for the first time in Eretz Israel, resulting in massive casualties and progress was halted for many months. The British regrouped and General Edmund Allenby took over as commander of the force. Additional troops were brought in to strengthen the Eretz Israel front and the war plans were reexamined.
In late October 1917, the British surprised the Turkish forces by attacking the city of Beer Sheba and succeeded in breaking through the front line. British forces pressed on quickly, fighting intensely against the retreating Turks as they tried to establish numerous new lines of defense. By early December the southern coast had been conquered and the British reached the gates of Jerusalem.
After a day of battle on the outskirts of the city, the Turkish commander decided to retreat from Jerusalem so as to avoid possible harm to the holy city in an anticipated British attack. On the morning of December 9, 1917 a delegation of eminent Jerusalemites left the city and went westward, waving a white flag in order to surrender to the British forces. At first the delegation came across a pair of cooks who were out searching for fresh ingredients for their commander’s breakfast, and then they met two sergeants. A number of ceremonies were held during the course of the day, including one in which the Mayor of Jerusalem surrendered to several British officers.
When General Allenby found out that Jerusalem had been captured, he called for a ceremony that he would lead the following morning, December 11, 1917. Allenby entered the Old City on foot out of respect for the city that is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims and the official ceremony of the surrender of Jerusalem took place on the steps of David’s Tower. Thus ended 400 hundred years of Turkish rule in Jerusalem.
Description of the Stamp and FDC
The stamp features one of the two British sergeants (Library of Congress) who met the Mayor of Jerusalem at the entrance to the city, against the background of a photo of General Allenby entering the Old City through the Jaffa Gate (National Library of Israel). The tab features the emblem of the London Regiment St. Pancras 19th Battalion, to which the sergeant belonged.
The First Day Cover features a photo of the monument built by the British, on the spot where the Mayor of Jerusalem first encountered the British soldiers, which today is in the heart of the Romema neighborhood in Jerusalem. The monument is dedicated to the memory of the casualties of the British 60th Division. In the background is a British map depicting troop deployment during the campaign to capture Jerusalem (National Library of Jerusalem).
Production of the WWI in Eretz Israel Centenary stamp series is aided by The Society for the Heritage of World War I in Israel, which researches the events of the war, publishes books on the subject and hosts conferences and tours for members of the society and the general public.