Egypt and Palestine

In January 1917 the Egyptian Expeditionary Force were still fighting the Turkish forces in the Sinai Peninsula. They launched an attack on the last major Turkish position on the Palestine border, Rafah, and successfully encircled and defeated the Turkish garrison (the soldiers defending the position).

The commander in charge of the EEF, General Murray, could then start planning an invasion of Palestine. His ultimate objective was Jerusalem.

At the end of March, Murray launched his first attack into Palestine. In the First Battle of Gaza his forces suffered 4,000 casualties and failed to capture the city. The 53rd Welsh Division was among the forces involved in the attack. They were in charge of capturing some important high ground south of the city - high ground is always valuable in battles. They succeeded, suffering many casualties, but the battle became confusing and they surrendered after receiving mixed-up orders. Of the 4,000 Allied casualties in the battle, three quarters of them were from the 53d.

Despite the failure of the First Battle of Gaza, Murray was given permission to try to invade Palestine again.

In April the Second Battle of Gaza also ended in high casualties for little gain. The British government lost patience with Murray and replaced him with a new commander, General Edmund Allenby. Allenby was given one important order - take Jerusalem by Christmas.

Allenby launched the Third Battle of Gaza in October and sent the Turks into retreat. In December he launched a successful attack on Jerusalem. Again the 53rd Welsh Division was among the forces who bore the brunt of the fighting. After just one day the Turkish defenders abandoned the city. Its capture was a big boost for morale in Britain - Allenby described it as a Christmas present.

Private D. H. Davies from Denbighshire was stationed in Palestine. In November 1917 his letter was printed in the Denbighshire Free Press.

" I have, recently got over a bad attack of Malaria, but am pleased to tell you I am now quite alright again, thank God. I am at present "Somewhere in Palestine," and, strange to say, I have met quite a nice little crowd of boys from Denbigh, Ruthin, and St Asaph."

We have little time to spare, for always it is work, work, and still more work; but, nevertheless, we are all merry and bright, in spite of all the numerous discomforts we experience from day to day, for campaigning in this country is no Cooks' Tour it's all work, real hard honest work. It would be useless denying the fact that we all long to be at home again.

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The newspapers of Wales made much of the involvement of local men in the taking of Jerusalem. Swansea’s Cambrian Daily Leader noted that the first British gunners to enter the city were two brothers from Morriston, Ivor and Evan Brazell:

In a letter he sent home to his family on 15 December 1917, Sergeant Ivor Brazell declared “Since writing to you last I have travelled many miles, and after hard fighting and living we have come to some of the places mentioned in the Bible. We advanced through Hebron, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, where we are at present”.

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A British soldier receives medical treatment in Palestine. A bullet has been removed from his arm.

See the battle for Jerusalem unfold on our animated battle map