They called him ‘The Bull’ and the designation fitted him well. General Edmund Allenby was a large, tall and powerful man. He was notorious for his fierce temper. One writer commented, “Allenby’s sudden explosions of temper, if he found anything wrong, were to be dreaded almost as much as an enemy bomb”.

When he was given charge of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) in Cairo, Prime Minister Lloyd George summoned him to his office before he set out to take up his post. His instructions were brief: “I want Jerusalem by Christmas,” declared the Prime Minister. And Allenby did it. Just in time.

Allenby finished up after the war with the ponderous title Field Marshall, 1st Viscount Allenby of Megiddo and Felixstowe GCB, GCMG. His relatively humble beginnings gave little promise of such an outcome.

Allenby – The Early Years

Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby was born at Brackenhurst Hall near Southwell, Nottinghamshire, UK on 23 April 1861. As he grew up, his mother had the greatest influence on him. One writer said of her, “Mrs Allenby’s outstanding characteristic was thoroughness in all she did; in the management of her easy-going husband, her children, the house, the horses, a sailing boat, a garden, and the villagers of Felixstowe, she never left any duty undone, she never wasted time, she was never at a loss”.

Allenby proved to be a solid but not a brilliant student. He went to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst 1878–1882. His initial inclinations were not with the military. Twice he took the exam for the Indian Civil Service. He was not accepted. Only the most brilliant students went in, so the military it was. On 10 May 1882, just after his 21st birthday, Allenby was gazetted to a commission in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons. This famous Northern Irish Regiment served in the Napoleonic wars, including at Waterloo. It fought in the Crimean War and took part in the heavy cavalry charge at Balaklava. It saw action in South Africa, including in the Boer War. Allenby himself was stationed in South Africa, moving up through the ranks, seeing action in the Boer War and meeting many who would become fellow officers in WWI.

Allenby Loses a Battle with The Redoubtable Cecil Rhodes

Allenby related how it had once fallen to him on a very cold night in bivouac to share a blanket with Cecil Rhodes, who was a guest of the Regiment. He awoke, shivering to find Rhodes, in his sleep, had wrapped the blanket around himself. This happened three times through the night.

Allenby reflected that British interests in South Africa were safe in the hands of one who was so acquisitive and tenacious even in his sleep.

Allenby at War

Prior to his service in the Middle East, Allenby was General in charge of the third Army and Cavalry on the Western Front. Allenby had only one child, a son, Michael, who enlisted very young at the age of 17. He was commissioned in the Royal Horse Artillery and in February 1917, he was awarded the Military Cross for bravery. General Allenby, when he was aware of heavy fighting, would go down to the office to which the casualty reports came and enquire, “any news of my little boy today?” When the reply came, “No news, Sir,” he would leave without ever showing his face.

When High Command determined to replace the ineffective General Sir Archibald Murray as head of the EEF, they turned to Allenby. After handing over command of the Third Army in France, Allenby had two weeks in London before he embarked for Cairo. A few remarkable meetings that Allenby had in London changed his views about his new appointment.

General Allenby and Prophecy

At the time of Allenby’s death in 1936, Brother John Carter wrote in The Christadelphian on ‘General Allenby and Prophecy’. Brother Carter wrote: “The death of Lord Allenby has recalled a story which is told by “Peterborough” in the gossip notes in The Daily Telegraph on May 15th.

“‘The last man failed, and I do not see why I should succeed.’

“Sir Beauvoir reminded him that he had always got his big guns. Allenby replied gloomily that they had all been sunk in the Mediterranean.

“Sir Beauvoir, who later was to preach a sermon at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, consoled him with the Biblical predictions contained in a book published in the 1880s, Light for the Last Days. These all pointed to 1917 as the year of the delivery of Jerusalem from Turkish rule. Allenby was much impressed by a prophecy that was to prove so remarkably accurate”.

He had yet another meeting in London. This was with Admiral Lord Fisher, the First Sea Lord. It is described by Victor Novak as follows: “In one of the most extraordinary military conferences of war, recorded by Lord Fisher’s secretary, Allenby was told that he would be God’s instrument for the deliverance of Jerusalem in December, 1917. Stunned by Lord Fisher’s words, he asked him to explain his deduction. Admiral Lord Fisher, First Sea Lord, then spent several hours in discussing the Bible with General Allenby, showing him the prophecies that related to the rise of Great Britain, and lastly the prophecies relating to the deliverance of Jerusalem in December, 1917. Armed and strengthened by this knowledge, General Allenby sailed for the Middle East”.

Allenby in the Middle East

Allenby assumed command of the EEF on 28 June 1917, and got to work. Soon after taking command, junior officers brought to Allenby a huge pile of papers on various administrative matters. After reviewing two or three of these he enquired if they were all of similar nature. On being told they were, Allenby hurled the whole pile across the room, with the gruff suggestion that his time not be wasted again on matters that they ought to resolve themselves. ‘The Bull’ had arrived in Cairo!

Allenby’s predecessor had tried to run the war from Cairo. That was not Allenby’s style. He went to the front, three hundred miles from Cairo near Gaza and Beersheba, to see the situation for himself. The description by The Australian Official History is, as we might expect, a bit over the top, but still interesting: “The (Egyptian Expeditionary) Force was in the doldrums, becalmed and dispirited, held between failure and success. It needed the wind of Allenby’s tremendous personality to fill the sails and give it steerage way.

“He went through the hot, dusty camps of his army like a strong, fresh, reviving wind… His tall and massive, but restlessly active figure, his keen eyes and prominent hooked nose, his terse and forcible speech, and his imperious bearing, radiated an impression of tremendous resolution, quick decision and steely discipline.

“Troops who caught only one fleeting glimpse of him felt that here at last was a man with the natural qualities of a great driving commander who, given a great task and supplied, as Allenby was, with a great scheme for its accomplishment, would relentlessly force it through to its conclusion.”

Crushing News from the Western Front

After a tour of inspection of his troops in July 1917, Allenby returned to Cairo on July 31 to find a cable from his wife to advise that their only child, Michael had been killed by a shell splinter that had penetrated his helmet. He was 20 years old.

Allenby, who was reduced to public tears for probably the only time in his life, somehow found the strength, despite his grief, to continue to lead the command and push towards his goal – Jerusalem before Christmas 1917.

But he needed support and obtained permission for his wife to join him in Egypt.

On to Jerusalem

General Allenby was meticulous in preparations, seeking out any information which might affect the outcomes for his troops in battle. On one occasion he went into a bacteriological laboratory and talked to the senior technician. He enquired after some charts on the wall.

The reply: “Those are charts of the seasonal incidence of malignant malaria in the Plain of Sharon, and I think it is the reason why Richard Coeur de Lion never got to Jerusalem. His army was nearly destroyed by fever, and I find that he came down the coast in September when malignant malaria was at its height.”

This sort of information was taken in by Allenby and never forgotten. He was a curious man, widely read on many subjects and with a habit of seeking input from his staff officers.

Presentation of medals to the ANZAC Mounted Division by General Sir Edmund Allenby (third right) after the battle of Megiddo

He moved the EEF’s headquarters to Rafah, closer to the front line, which stretched thirty miles from Gaza to Beersheba. Allenby’s careful planning also focussed on water, both for troops and horses. He needed to break the Turkish defences, not only to enable the push towards Jerusalem, but also to get access to the wells of Beersheba. Without that water, the stalemate would continue. The famous charge of the Australian Light Horse in the late afternoon of 31 October 1917, dealt with in detail in a previous Lampstand article, broke the Turkish defences, gave the Army access to precious water and opened up the way to Jerusalem. Two days later, Arthur J Balfour, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, issued the Balfour Declaration by way of a letter to Lord Rothschild, including the statement, “His Majesty’s Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use its best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object…”

Clearly the “best endeavours” of “His Majesty’s Government” rested heavily on the broad shoulders of General Edmund Allenby. Until the capture of Jerusalem and the battle for Megiddo had been successfully negotiated, all well into the future, the commitments in the Balfour Declaration were empty words. Allenby and his troops pressed on. A week after the fall of Beersheba, Gaza too fell, at last, on November 7. Jaffa on the coast was captured on 16 November 1917, and the focus was now on Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Liberated from Ottoman Rule

The taking of Jerusalem was remarkable. The ‘attack’ was on 8 December 1917. This was the first day of the Jewish Feast of Hanukkah, commemorating Judas Maccabeus’ liberation of Jerusalem from the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes (King of the North) in 165 BC. It was the Feast of Dedication mentioned in John 10:22.

Allenby was reluctant to fire on the Turkish troops in the city for fear of damage to holy sites. He had sought instructions from Lloyd George, who advised that the War Cabinet was leaving it to him to exercise his own judgement. Not satisfied with that, he cabled the King, who advised him to pray about it. This he did. He sought the surrender of the city and sent the Royal Flying Corps to drop leaflets calling for surrender. In the event, this is exactly what happened. The Turks retreated and the city was handed over to Allenby without a shot being fired. There seem to have been a number of attempts by senior British officers to accept the surrender of the city. Major General John Shea finally wired Allenby that he would accept the surrender of the city only to receive Allenby’s reply that he would be arriving in two days to accept the city’s surrender. And that was the end of that.

When he arrived and entered the city on 11 December 1917, Allenby deliberately went on foot out of respect for the city, in conscious contrast to Kaiser Wilhelm who had, in 1898, entered the Old City on a white horse.

Following the retreat of the Ottoman Turks from Jerusalem, Allenby proceeded to achieve victory at the battle of Megiddo (19-21 September 1918), and to take Damascus (1 October 1918), Homs (16 October 1918) and Aleppo (25 October 2018).

Allenby was made a Field Marshall on 31 July 1919, and was appointed High Commissioner for Egypt from 1919 to 1925. He died of a stroke at the age of 75 in 1936.

Brother Louis Sargent’s Letter and Grattan Guinness’ Light for the Last Days

In the Christadelphian article referred to earlier, John Carter includes a letter penned by Brother LG Sargent to the Telegraph newspaper (which did not publish it). Brother Sargent wrote: “The book referred to in “Peterborough’s” note on Allenby’s conversation about prophecy with General de Lisle is evidently Grattan Guinness’ Light for the Last Days. Dr Grattan Guinness was not only a Biblical student but an amateur astronomer who worked out detailed applications of the chronological prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. His conclusion, broadly stated, was that a period of 2,520 years (seven “times”, or a week of years on the day-for-a-year principle) separated the epoch of the downfall of the Davidic kingdom from its restoration. That downfall was marked by successive stages in the carrying away captive of Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah respectively: Guinness concluded that the end of the “times of the Gentiles” would be marked by corresponding successive stages in the restoration of that Kingdom, of which the first would be the end of desolating Turkish dominance over Palestine 2,520 years from Nebuchadnezzar’s first invasion”.

Brother Carter also quotes the relevant section from Light for the Last Days:

“It was in the year 606 BC that Nebuchadnezzar first came against Judah and carried Daniel and the Hebrew children, among others, captive. At this time, he was acting on behalf of his father, and it was not until nearly two years later, 604 BC, that he himself acceded to the throne. That year is consequently, properly speaking, the first of Nebuchadnezzar; and it was probably also the year in which he saw the vision of the great image, in connection with which it was said to him, ‘ Thou art this head of gold’. This year has therefore some special claims to be considered as a very principal starting-point of the “Times of the Gentiles”. Measured from it, the period runs out in AD 1917”.

So in 2017 we are 100 years from this remarkable time that saw 400 years of Ottoman rule come to an end, a significant prophetic milestone realised and the path to a Jewish State set further on course. And it was a firm belief in the Bible by some in the British War Cabinet and in the military, including General Allenby, that divine providence was a compelling force in this amazing fulfilment of prophecy.