I don’t want Jerusalem … I just want eggs!

A funny and true story of the attempted surrender of Jerusalem to the British armed forces by the Ottoman forces in 1917, December 9th.

Ottoman surrender of Jerusalem
Ottoman surrender of Jerusalem

In those times, there were multiple attempts that the rulers of the vanquished city had to make before they could find someone among the conquerors who was authorized and willing to accept Jerusalem’s surrender.

First British guard at the Jaffa Gate
First British guard at the Jaffa Gate

The first to be offered Jerusalem was “Private Murch,” a British cook bivouacked in the north of the city, who had been sent on December 9 by his commanding officer to the nearby village of Lifta to find some eggs for breakfast. When Murch was approached by the mayor of Jerusalem, on horseback and flying a white flag, offering to turn over the keys to the city, Murch replied, “I don’t want yer city. I want some eggs for my hofficers!”

End of Ottoman Rule in Jerusalem, December 9, 1917
End of Ottoman Rule in Jerusalem, December 9, 1917

Nonetheless, Murch reported the development to his superiors, and Brig.-Gen C.F. Watson hurried off in the direction of town to accept its surrender from its mayor, Hussein Salim al-Husseini. However, when the divisional commander, Maj.-Gen John Shea, learned of this development, he got on the field phone and order that Watson be stopped: “I will myself take the surrender of Jerusalem!”

Turkish camel corps in Jerusalem
Turkish camel corps in Jerusalem

So he did, after Watson had ridden back to town to return the keys to Husseini. Then when Shea wired General Allenby the good news, the latter wrote back that he would be arriving in two days to accept the city’s surrender.

German prisoners of war arriving at Jerusalem
German prisoners of war arriving at Jerusalem

Gaston Bodart, Austria’s official historian of the Great War, wrote that the moral significance of Jerusalem’s capture “was even greater than its military importance.”

Allenby understood this. In declaring martial law in the city, he promised that “every sacred building, monument, holy spot, shrine, traditional site, endowment, pious bequest, or customary place of prayer of whatsoever form of the three religions will be maintained and protected.” And, as noted, he was careful to dismount from his horse before entering Jaffa Gate.

Prime Minister Lloyd George described the capture of Jerusalem as “a Christmas present for the British people.”

It is said that a Jewish Allied soldier from New Zealand, Corporal Louis Isaac Salek, hung a blue-and-white flag, decorated with the Star of David from the Tower of David. He had ordered the flag from the Jewish haberdasher Moreno Cicurel, of Cairo, who had it made by a tailor named Eliezer Slutzkin. Within 20 minutes, the British had removed the flag.

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