In 1917 a momentous occasion was delayed by a Private Murch who in great style declared “I don’t want Jerusalem!”
General Edmund Allenby, commander of the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force, entered Jerusalem two days after Turkish forces occupying the city had raised the white flag to surrender to British. He had been given explicit orders by Prime Minister David Lloyd George to capture Jerusalem by Christmas. This followed in the wake of two failed efforts by his predecessor, Sir Archibald Murray.
However, prior to this momentous occasion an almost farcical scene was played out and the surrender very nearly scuppered by a young Private who quite by accident was offered the surrender of the city. The Egyptian Expeditionary Forces were bivouacked to the North of the city. Private Murch, a cook with the expeditionary force, had been instructed by his commanding officer on December 9th to go out and find some eggs for his breakfast in the nearby town of Lifta. Being tasked with this onerous duty he duly saddled up and headed towards the nearest town. However, being one of the few Murch’s with a poor sense of direction, young Murch got lost and found himself wandering around areas he didn’t recognise. Spotting a town in the distance he headed towards it in the hope that this would enable him to carry out his instructions.
Vivian Gilbert’s book ‘The Romance of the Last Crusade: With Allenby to Jerusalem,’ describes the frequent attempts that the rulers of the surrendering city had attempted before they could find someone among the conquerors who was authorised and willing to accept Jerusalem’s surrender. In their quest they happened upon young Murch.
As Murch headed to what he thought was Lifta, he encountered the Mayor of Jerusalem carrying a white flag, and who promptly intercepted the uniformed Murch and offered him the keys of the city. In reply, Murch, in typical earthy fashion, replied “I don’t want yer city, I want some eggs for my officers!” The Mayor, thwarted in his attempt, returned to the city and Murch headed back to his superiors to report his encounter. I have no information if Murch succeeded in obtaining his eggs.
Brigadier General C. F Watson, hearing of the development, then scuttled off in the direction of the city to accept the surrender from the Mayor, Hussein Salim al Husseini. However, divisional commander, Major General John Shea, hearing of the Watsons departure for the city, promptly ordered Watson be stopped. “I will myself take the surrender of Jerusalem!” he stated. Watson, had by that time accepted the keys from the Mayor and was quickly forced to return them. Further farce ensued when Major General Shea wired General Allenby with the good news, only to receive the reply that Allenby would be taking the surrender personally and would arrive in two days.
Allenby entered the city on foot in respect for the symbolic importance of Jerusalem to its residents and religious adherents worldwide. Allenby, who was later described by T.E. Lawrence as “morally so great that the comprehension of our littleness came slow to him,” elected to make his entrance walking through Jaffa Gate. This was in intentional contrast to Kaiser Wilhelm II, who, visiting the Holy Land in 1898, insisted on entering the Old City seated on a white horse.
References: David B Green December 11th 2014 – Harretz,
The Daily Telegraph,
The Romance of the Last Crusade: With Allenby to Jerusalem – Vivian Gilbert