on 31 May 2010
Mr. Grainger has obviously done thorough research when compiling this text and is very detailed when describing the actions and movements of the different British / ANZAC units, probably due to the direct availability of official records. The description of the Turkish / German side is less detailed, probably because of the difficulties of finding their official records and (at least when the Turkish texts are concerned) lingual difficulties. This means that when describing the advance of the E.E.F., the opinions expressed by Mr. Grainger are probably mainly his own, but when describing the retreat of the other side, he more tends to follow the views already expressed by the authors, whose texts he refers to. However, his compilation gives a quite honest and unbiased description of this campaign.
There are a few obvious flaws: The worst one is, by far, the extremely poor quality of the maps, which are both too small and too lacking in detail: Many places mentioned and described in great detail in the text are simply not there, making it very difficult, not to say impossible, to follow the exact events, even if you are already quite well read on the subject and even have direct personal experience from the actual area. I pity them who must try and find out what happened and where only from these maps.
Transcription of place names are also rather inconsistent, which is often a problem when reference is made to places named in a non-European language. So if you want to follow the events and understand where they took place, get a good and detailed map of the area somewhere else and keep it ready when reading this book. (There are excellent maps in e.g. the official record of this campaign: "A Brief Record of the Advance of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force", London 1919. This publication has long been unavailable, but has recently been re-issued by General Books: I haven't seen the new edition, but hope that they have copied the maps from the first edition!)
The reference system, with all notes collected in an appendix at the end of the book is also far from reader-friendly; it may be correct for an academic text, but for a reading text almost all notes which simply refer to the source could be abolished without anyone missing them, while those containing an explanation or some other reference is much more easily accessed if made as footnotes, by the Oxford system.
The bibliography appendix is very long, but spelling of titles is sometimes different from that in the text, which is quite confusing.
on 2 December 2009
My interest in and subsequent purchase of John Grainger's book was motivated by my efforts to trace my Grandfather's steps towards and beyond Jerusalem as one of Allenby's young officers in 1917. Newly commissioned to the Cheshire Regiment, my Grandfather soon found himself attached to the 2nd/22nd Battalion of the 181st Brigade of the 60th (London) Division and part of Allenby's great adventure to free Palestine from the grip of the Ottoman Empire for the first time in 400 years.
Grainger's book provides an informative chronology of the events as they unfolded. Starting with the 3rd Battle of Gaza, together with the accompanying capture of Beersheba, and moving on through Tell-es-Sheria, punching holes in the Turkish lines, and ending with the capture of Jerusalem in December 1917. I am the proud owner of a set of photgraphs taken by a colleague of Grandfather's, one of which shows Allenby's formal procession towards the Jaffa Gate on December 11th. John Grainger's book has undoubtedly helped me to trace Grandfather's progress (and how I wish I had questioned him more closely before he passed away in 1972) and, although the book demonstrates admiration for Allenby's brilliance, it is also generous to the efforts of the enemy, paying tribute to the tenacity of the Turkish defenders as they retreated with care, managing to minimise their losses to a great extent.
Perhaps Grainger, in his analysis of the reasons for the victory, underplays the part played by those responsible for enabling the front line troops to fight. The logistics of providing food and water, ammunition, accommodation etc. was enormous and was a great victory in itself. Railways were built at an impressive rate and contributed in no small way to the success of the venture.
As to the production, the photographs selected to illustrate the book are disappointing: too often their production is muddy and uninformative. This is, presumably, a decision made by the publishers who, for economic reasons, eschewed the possibility of using gloss paper for photographs. My other gripe, given my geographical background, is that the maps are of limited use. Scaled maps are an essential aid to this dialogue because modern place names in Israel bear little resemblance to those commonly used all those years ago. Contemporary newspapers carried some excellent maps of the campaign's progess, so it is surprising that advantage was not taken of some of these.
Many of my observations have been clarified since I examined other sources of information; I could not possibly cover the range of sources covered by the author. John Grainger's work makes a valuable contribution to the knowledge of campaign that has not received the level of attention that it deserves. History teaches us much, especially that we don't learn from it! The victors of Baghdad would have done well to study the work of the Royal Engineers following the liberation of Jerusalem. They had built a reservoir and used it to provide fresh drinking water for the city within two months of the capture of the city.
For students of this campaign, John Grainger's book is an excellent starting point for further study; there is sufficient detail to meet the needs of people like me, but that detail is not allowed to confuse the broader picture.