WW1 – The British Campaign in the Holy Land



June 27, 1914 was just another peaceful summer day in Europe. The following day, the murder of the Austrian Crown Prince in Sarajevo triggered the start of the First World War. A month later almost all of Europe was in turmoil.

Although people generally think of Europe when referring to WWI, it did not take long for the conflict to spread to other frontiers. More than half the world’s nations engaged in battle. The war lasted not days, not weeks, not months… but four long years. The character of the war was different than previous wars in that it was a “total war”, consuming all the resources and all the efforts of the people that were involved. The military magnitude, casualties and horrors of this war came to be known as “The Great War” and had no precedence.

Although the British Campaign in the Middle East could possibly be considered a ‘marginal’ one in the scope of the ‘Great War’, there is no doubt that it had great historical and economical resonance. Above all, the conquest of Jerusalem by the British had a tremendous emotional effect that was incomprehensible. Six hundred and twenty-six years after the last of the Crusaders sailed from the shores of the Holy Land, it once again came under Christian rule.

The British conquerors saw themselves as new crusaders, and the monument – still standing at the place where Jerusalem surrendered to the British – bears witness to this.

On December 11th 1917, General Allenby led the procession into the Old City of Jerusalem through Jaffa Gate. In order to show respect for the holy place he dismounted from his horse and entered on foot. The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George described the capture of Jerusalem as “a Christmas present for the British people” and Allenby remarked, “The wars of the Crusaders are now complete”.

Despite the fact that Jerusalem is the most revered site in the Holy Land, at the end of the war Allenby received the title “Lord of Armageddon” and not “Lord of Jerusalem”. This title reflects the importance of Armageddon – Megiddo, as whoever controls Armageddon holds the key to the Middle East and the Holy Land. Megiddo is the site where the first recorded battle in history was fought (Thutmose III, 1480 BC), as well as other countless wars throughout history including one of the major battles where the British defeated the Turks under Allenby’s command. According to Christian belief, Megiddo will be the location of the last battle in history between the “Sons of Light” and the “Sons of Darkness”.

In the following tour itinerary we will walk in the footsteps of the British forces. From nearby Gaza – the gateway to the Holy Land from Egypt throughout history – we will analyze the battles, the great victories and the horrible defeats. We will visit some of the battlegrounds and some of the very well-kept military cemeteries in the Holy Land where more than 10,000 British soldiers are buried. We will visit Jerusalem, Tel Aviv (where the British army crossed the Yarkon River), Armageddon and many other sites that were touched by the Great War, as well as other historical sites that cannot be ignored. Towards the end of the tour we will summarize the effects of the campaign until today.


 ROUTE   DAY 1: Arrival, Jerusalem 
  • Arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv.
  • Drive east, crossing the Judean Plains and ascend towards Jerusalem taking the northern fork along the Ben Shemen route, where armies marched towards Jerusalem for thousands of years.
  • Stop at Nebi Samuel, 917 m. or 3000 ft. above sea level, also known as the Mt. of Joy (the point from which the crusader pilgrims first saw Jerusalem from a distance). Due to its strategic position on the outskirts of Jerusalem, heavy fighting took place here between the British and Turkish forces between November 20th – 24th 1917. Once the Turkish forces succumbed in battle the road was open for Allenby and his troops to conquer Jerusalem.
  • Time permitting, visit the site where the mayor of Jerusalem surrendered to the British forces…. three times.

Overnight in Jerusalem.

 DAY 2: Jerusalem 
  • Drive to Mt. Scopus for a thorough visit of the British cemetery from WWI.
  • Drive to the Mt. of Olives for a panoramic view of Jerusalem, where over 4,000 years of history are revealed.
  • Descend to the Garden of Gethsemane.
  • Cross the Kidron Valley and enter the Walled City to visit the Wailing Wall – holiest shrine in Judaism.
  • Walk along the Via Dolorosa, stopping at the Stations of the Cross all the way to Golgotha and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
  • Pass through the Eastern Bazaar to Jaffa Gate (the gate where Allenby, in his humbleness, dismounted from his horse and entered and walked the city by foot).
  • Visit the Citadel or Tower of David Museum, the museum for the history of Jerusalem.
  • Exit the town by Zion Gate to visit Mt. Zion and the Room of the Last Supper.

Overnight in Jerusalem.

 DAY 3: Qumran, Masada, Dead Sea 
  • Descend from Jerusalem through the Judean mountains, crossing the Judean desert towards the Dead Sea. On the way through the region recount how British intelligence deceived the German army into believing that the attack on Transjordan was going to approach through the Jordan Valley, while actually the British forces advanced north, along the Mediterranean.
  • Continue to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, to visit the National Park of Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.
  • Continue south along the shores of the Dead Sea to visit the National Park of Masada, Israel’s foremost archaeological park.
  • Float in the Dead Sea and relax in the spa, with the therapeutic black mud.
  • Drive to the capital of the Negev desert – Beersheva.

Overnight in Beersheva.

 DAY 4: Nitzana, Beersheva 
  • After breakfast drive to Nitzana, the gateway to the Holy Land from Egypt (the crossing between the sand dunes from the north and the Negev mountain range of limestone from the south).
  • Visit the Turkish Train Station “Ujah Al Chafir” and Nitzana, the Nabatean town.
  • A discussion will highlight the following topics:

* A full explanation, including maps of the German-Turkish army plans to attack the Suez Canal.
* The counter attack of the British forces headed by Archibald Murray.
* The importance of water in the desert and the difficulties of maneuvering in the sand dunes. (The maneuvers will be enacted for a short distance, depending on the physical condition of the  participants).
* The logistics of bringing supplies and laying out water pipes.

  • Drive towards Beersheva, explaining the cavalry movement of the British Army and the offensive of the 20th Corps on the hills east of the city.
  • Visit the Tel of Beersheva, which was overtaken by the New Zealand Brigade, discussing its significance from the biblical time period.
  • From the top of the Tel (archaeological terminology for man-made hill), learn how the Australian 2nd Brigade Cavalry, under the command of Grant, attacked and overtook Beersheva.
  • At the end of the day, visit The Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Beersheva.

Overnight in Beersheva.

 DAY 5: Anzac Park, Latrun, Tel Aviv 
  • Drive along the route of the battle from Beersheva to Tel Haror – a central fortification between Beersheva and Gaza – for a panoramic view and explanation.
  • Proceed to Ein Habsor, central water reservoir of the British in the area.
  • Continue to Anzac Park, overlooking Gaza, recounting the story of the Battle of Gaza.
  • Drive north to Ma’ar Hill and to the Train Station in Wadi Sara’ar where the offensive of overtaking the train station and major road junction will be discussed.
  • Drive towards Latrun, reviewing the biblical and historical battles in the area.
  • Possible visit to Yad Lashiryon (Armoured Corps) Museum, the world’s largest tank museum.
  • While passing Emaus, discuss Jesus’ meeting with his disciples at this site, near Latrun, after he was ‘raised from the dead’.
  • Visit to the British Cemetery in Ramla.
  • In the late afternoon time permitting, tour “Hill Garden” near the Yarkon River, recounting the crossing of the river during the war.

Overnight in Tel Aviv.

 DAY 6: Jezreel Valley, Megiddo, Nazareth 

The day will focus on Allenby’s footsteps to the north, bringing to life his brilliant deception of the Turks.

  • Drive north along the Mediterranean coast towards Wadi Mil’lek.
  • At Elyakim junction, we will turn towards Mishmar HaEmek.
  • Ascend to Tel Abu Shusa for a panoramic view of the Jezreel Valley and discussion of the long range maneuvers of the cavalry.
  • Descend to the valley and drive towards Megiddo.
  • Visit Megiddo (Armageddon) to understand why it is one of the key sites to understanding the history of the Middle East.
  • Continue to Afula, stopping at the Old Train Station to discuss the surprise attack on the headquarters of General Von Kressenstein, chief commander of the Turkish-German forces.
  • End the day at the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth.

Overnight in Galilee.

 DAY 7: Sea of Galilee & Golan 
  • Visit Cana in Galilee where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine.
  • Drive towards the Sea of Galilee.
  • At the southern tip, stop in Tzemach to recount the battle on the train station there which was the last stronghold of the German and Austrian troops in Palestine before they fled to Syria.
  • Continue along the western banks of the Sea of Galilee to the north shore where most of the events of the New Testament took place.
  • Visit Tabgha, one of the traditional locations of the Miracle of the Loaves and the Fish.
  • Visit the Church of Primacy, where Jesus appointed Peter as his successor.
  • Travel a short distance to Capernaum, the Jewish fisherman town of 2000 years ago, which became the center for Jesus’ ministry in the Galilee.
  • Drive up to the Golan Heights, to visit the “Valley of Tears“, site of one of the major battles of the Yom Kippur War in October 1973.
  • While on the Golan Heights, discuss the “Sykes-Picot Agreement“, the agreement between the British and the French on how to divide the Middle East between them. Discuss the effect of this accord on the borders of the countries of the Middle East till today.

Overnight in Galilee.

 DAY 8: Galilee, Mediterranean, Departure 

  • Drive from Galilee to Haifa, on the shores of the Mediterranean to visit the Haifa War Cemetery . The grounds are shared with the cemetery of the Templar Society (not to be confused with the Knights of the Templars) which was a German Protestant sect that settled in the Holy Land in the second half of the 19th C.
  • Time permitting, visit Caesarea Maritima,  Herod the Great’s masterpiece on the shores of the Mediterranean.
  • Transfer for flight departure.