Simon Smart reflects on the fascinating story of General Allenby’s entrance into Jerusalem in 1917.
On location in Jerusalem, Simon Smart considers what the story of General Edmund Allenby’s entry into that city in 1917 reveals about the importance of humility, respect, and sacrifice in the Christian life.
SIMON SMART: Even for those who’ve never been here, the scene behind me is a familiar one: The Old City of Jerusalem. Over the centuries it’s been overrun by invading armies dozens of times, but it’s not an easy place to capture, the rugged terrain and the valleys making a natural fortress of the place. It was no different in 1917 when the British forces, including the Australia Light Horse battled their way toward Jerusalem, eventually overcoming the Turkish army and bringing to an end 400 years of Ottoman rule here.
There’s a fascinating story surrounding the entry into Jerusalem of the British general Edmund Allenby. That entry took place on the Western side of the city, at the famous Jaffa Gate.
You can hardly miss the huge gap in the wall here. In 1898, when the German Kaiser William II was due to visit, they took out a huge chunk of the wall so that he could ride in here in a show of splendour and pomp and ceremony, no doubt putting on a bit of a display for the locals. As part of the visit, the Kaiser was here to inaugurate the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer just down the road, and at that inauguration, he spoke about the light and splendour that emanated from this city. And he reckoned that whatever the Germanic peoples had become, they’d become under the banner of the cross: the emblem of self-sacrificing charity. It’s a bit ironic, I reckon.
Nineteen years after the Kaiser rode through here in triumphant procession, through this hole in the wall that had been made for him, General Allenby approached Jerusalem from the West. He rode up the old Jaffa Road on his horse, flanked either side by detachments that had been under his command. But as he got close to the city, in a very deliberate lack of show, he got off his horse, and simply walked into town.
This was, after all, a time when you could reasonably expect a bit of grandeur attached to such an important military occasion. But Allenby shunned all of that, instead opting for an approach of plainness and simplicity. He even ignored the big hole in the wall and simply walked through the side gate. The story goes that as Allenby got off his horse, he said, “I won’t ride my horse into the city into which my Lord rode a donkey.” It’s hard to know, actually, whether Allenby ever said those words, but if he did, here you have two examples of men who would have claimed to follow the one who was crucified in this city, but on this occasion at least, only one of them seemed to understand the call to service and to consider others better than ourselves. There is something fitting about a follower of Jesus not only speaking but also acting in a way that shuns show and pride, and even in a moment of great triumph, exhibited grace, respect, and humility.