By Judith Phillips
I wonder how many people attending a Nativity play or listening to readings at Christmas services over the holiday season last year knew it was a hundred years since the capture of Turkish-held Jerusalem by Allied troops during the First World War?
Jerusalem was a target for the Allied campaign in Palestine as it was the administrative capital of Turkish-rules Palestine and its capture would underline Allied dominance in the area. For the British, it was also important in protecting their interests in Egypt and the Suez Canal, the main artery to India. Reading about the Sinai and Palestine campaigns, the placenames are so familiar from the Bible and also because they are sometimes in the news these days – Beersheba, Gaza, Jericho, and, of course, Sinai and Jerusalem. General Allenby led the Allied attack on Jerusalem including a cavalry assault in bitter icy winds and torrential rain. The city fell on 9 December 1917 after more than 400 years of Turkish rule. Allenby led his troops into the city on foot.
I know of at least one Teesdale man who was in Palestine. Robert William Oliver from Staindrop joined the 905th Mechanical Transport Company of the Royal Army Service Corps in 1916 as a driver, No. M/303128. On his voyage to Egypt in May 1917 his ship Transylvania was torpedoed twice near the Italian coast. After some time frantically swimming, Driver Oliver was picked up by the Japanese destroyer Matsu, one of two destroyers sailing with the Transylvania. Robert Oliver was one of the lucky ones – 421 men died. You get more details about this incident on the internet.
I don’t know the details of his service after that but he could have been involved in the capture of Jerusalem as he had served in Palestine for over a year when he died from burns on 20 June 1918. That information comes from the Teesdale Mercury of 24 July 1918 when the report of his death was published. Robert is buried in the Jerusalem War Cemetery.
Do you know of anyone from Teesdale who was involved in the fighting in the Middle East? What did they think about being in a land they would probably have known well from school, Sunday School and other church activities? I am sure there will have been more than Driver Oliver. We would love to hear from you if you can help us record the stories and copy the photographs of Teesdale people affected by the war.