Edmund Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby

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Field Marshal Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby (April 23 1861 - May 14 1936) was a British soldier and administrator most famous for his role during World War I, in which he led the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in the conquest of Palestine and Syria in 1917 and 1918.

 Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby
Field Marshal Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby

Early years and active service

Born in Brackenhurst, Nottinghamshire, Allenby was educated at Haileybury College. He had no great desire to be a soldier, and tried to enter the Indian Civil Service, failing the entry exam twice. In 1880, he sat the exam for the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and came fifth out of one-hundred and ten applicants. After ten months at Sandhurst, he passed out twelfth and was commissioned into the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons in 1881.

In 1882, he joined his regiment in South Africa, and served in the Bechuanaland Expedition of 1884-1885 on patrol duties, and then in Zululand in 1888. In 1889, as a captain, he was made the adjutant of the regiment, responsible for the turnout, discipline and routine of the unit and soon gained a reputation for strictness. He returned to Britain in 1890 with his unit, which was posted to Brighton, during which time the regiment was confined to training and other routine duties. In 1893, Allenby’s time as Adjutant of the regiment came to an end, and in 1894 he sat – and failed – the entry exam for the Staff College in Camberley. Not deterred, he sat the exam again the next year and passed in twenty-first place, being the only cavalryman to enter the College by competition and the first officer from his regiment ever to do so. On the same day, Captain Douglas Haig of the 7th Hussars also entered the Staff College, albeit not by taking an exam, thus beginning a rivalry between the two that was to run until the First World War. Different in character, Haig and Allenby both worked hard at Staff College, although the latter was more popular with fellow officers, even being made Master of the Draghounds. Whereas Haig had few interests outside military affairs, Allenby had already developed a passion for poetry, ornithology, travel and botany. His Staff College assessment read as follows:

"This officer has sufficiently good abilities and much practical common sense. In all his work the practical bearing of the subject dealt with is always kept in view; and so long as the subject or situation falls within his knowledge, it is rapidly and thoroughly dealt with. In matters with which he is not so conversant he is not very good at working into details. He has energy, good judgement and rapid decision, and is a clear thinker and writer. He is active and a good soldier, and has the power of exerting influence on others and getting good work out of them.”

Before leaving Staff College in 1897, he was promoted to Major and had also married Miss Mabel Chapman, the daughter of a Wiltshire landowner. In 1898, Allenby joined the 3rd Cavalry Brigade, then serving in Ireland as the Brigade-Major.

Boer War

At the outbreak of the Boer War, Allenby was returned to his regiment, and the Inniskillings were embarked at Queenstown before landing at Cape Town, South Africa on 11 December 1899 during the ‘Black Week’ in which the British Army suffered reverses at Colenso, Magersfontein and Stormberg. Allenby was made second in command of the Inniskillings and sent to Naauwpoort Junction to join Major-General John French’s Cavalry Division. In defending the northern frontier of the Cape, French’s division employed harassing tactics and threatened the flanks and rear of the Boers whilst not committing his force to a large scale operation. During this time Allenby gained a reputation for being a bold commander, having been given command of a squadron of cavalry, a role which suited Allenby more than second in command of the regiment. In one demonstration near Colesberg on 14 January 1900, Allenby commanded two squadrons, two companies of mounted infantry and a section of artillery in penetrating Boer lines, shelling a bridge and avoiding an attempt by the enemy to cut his force off. Having suffered no casualties, Allenby’s force returned having taken several prisoners. In February 1900, the Cavalry Division executed a daring outflanking manoeuvre at Modder River, in which Allenby’s squadron took part. This led to the relief of Kimberley, which had been besieged by the Boers since the war’s outset. At Kimberley, Allenby resumed his acquaintance with Cecil Rhodes, who entertained him to dinner and sent several supplies to his squadron. Later in the month, Allenby’s squadron partook in the encirclement and capture of Piet Cronje’s force east of Kimberley. In March 1900, Allenby’s squadron led the final charge on Bloemfontein and was successful in seizing a number of kopjes to the south of the city. A month later, the commander of the Inniskillings was invalided home, and Allenby given temporary command of the regiment, during which it mostly undertook convoy duty. Johannesburg was occupied on 31 May, and in June, during the advance on Pretoria, Allenby engaged a party of Boers at Kalkheuvel Pass after the Cavalry Division was ambushed. After the capture of Pretoria, and during Field Marshal Lord Roberts’ push eastwards, the Inniskillings were active around the town of Middelburg in which a thinly held line was maintained for more than three weeks against an active enemy. Subsequently, Allenby led the Inniskillings in the advance on Barberton and engaged the Boers at Lake Chrissie, during which the Cavalry Division was continually engaged by the Boers in Eastern Transvaal. The Cavalry Division was broken up into several smaller columns, and Allenby received the command of one of these in January 1901.

The column period of the war lasted for eighteen months and took place across the Transvaal, the Orange Free State, Natal and the Cape Colony – an area equal to Germany, France and Holland combined. The tactics of mobile riflemen excelled due to the lack of railways metalled roads, and the vastness of the area of operations. Ultimately, Allenby’s column never suffered a reverse or lost a convoy during this period of the war – a fate that befell most column commanders at least once up to the end of the war. Allenby was daring and vigorous in pursuit of the enemy, no doubt helped by his considerable physical fitness. The column under his command varied, although it usually consisted of two regiments, a battery of Horse Artillery, a long-range gun and half a battalion of infantry. This force was usually engaged in wearisome tasks entailing hard marching, outpost work during the evening and little prospect of seeing the enemy. In early 1901, the column operated alongside others under the command of French in the Eastern Transvaal in operations against Louis Botha. In the Spring, the column operated near the Swaziland border, in which heavy rain ensured that movement by men and horses was difficult, testing the resolve of the column commander and his men alike. During the weeks approaching summer, the column headed north to operate near Middelburg and then spent many months operating in Western Transvaal around the Magaliesburg hill range. His letters home to his wife began to include notable criticisms of superior officers and generals with ‘no more brains or backbone than a bran doll’. Allenby’s column was promised a rest but soon found itself in Natal and then by October, operating around Zululand. Allenby asked Lord Kitchener, commanding in South Africa, to rest his weary column, and was duly promised a fortnight’s rest. However, Allenby’s column was called to assist another British Army column that had suffered a considerable reverse at Bakenlaagte, and it spent the remainder of 1901 in Eastern Transvaal.

Towards the end of 1901, Allenby went down with influenza and spent ten days’ leave in Durban. Having been engaged in continual warfare in the field for two years, without holiday or accommodation, he was showing considerable signs of strain, and was joined in South Africa by his wife. She arrived in May 1902, after Allenby’s column was engaged in combat in the Transvaal and north of the Orange River Colony. On 31 May 1902, the Peace of Vereeniging was declared, formally ending the war. Allenby had showed himself to be gallant, dedicated, hard-working and resourceful in command who earned the plaudits of both Roberts and Kitchener. Along with other notable column commanders, Haig, Herbert Plumer and Julian Byng, Allenby was marked for future promotion, ending the war as a Colonel.

Interwar Years

He returned to Britain in 1902, being placed in command of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers and was stationed in England until 1905. Promoted to Brigadier-General, Allenby moved to Colchester to assume command of the 4th Cavalry Brigade. In 1909, aged 48, he was promoted again to the rank of Major-General – due to his extensive cavalry experience, was appointed Inspector-General of Cavalry in 1910, with headquarters at Horse Guards, London. Allenby became Inspector-General at a difficult time – the Boer War and Russo-Japanese War had assisted the growth of two differing outlooks regarding the role of cavalry in modern war. Whilst one side favoured shock action and had faith in the effectiveness of the sword and lance, the opposite contended that the cavalry’s future lay in serving as mounted infantry. Allenby chose to steer a middle path, in which the importance of firepower was emphasised through the introduction of the machine gun and the training of cavalrymen in infantry tactics, whilst the alternative of relying on shock action where necessary was kept open. Having studied the geography of Northern France, and attended the manoeuvres of the French cavalry, Allenby highlighted the importance of the cavalry in retreat, recognising its ability to provide cover for the withdrawing infantry. With mounting responsibilities, the amiable element in Allenby’s character publicly waned, ensuring that he was disliked by many subordinate officers and the cavalry’s rank and file. His inspections were brisk and his manner abrupt. Furthermore, Allenby’s pedantry for presentation was keenly felt by those cavalrymen under inspection. These somewhat repellent traits and Allenby’s physical stature led others to refer to him as 'The Bull'.

World War I

Western Front

During World War I he initially served on the Western Front. At the outbreak of war he was made commander of a cavalry division and distinguished himself when his unit covered the retreat after the Battle of Mons. He was rewarded by being made commander of the BEF Cavalry Corps. In 1915 he commanded V Corps during the Second Battle of Ypres and in October he took charge of the British Third Army. However at the Battle of Arras, his forces failed to exploit a breakthrough and he was replaced by Julian Byng on June 9.

Egypt and Palestine

Allenby was sent to Egypt to be made commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) on June 27 1917, replacing Sir Archibald Murray. One of Allenby's first moves was to support the efforts of T. E. Lawrence amongst the Arabs with £200,000 a month. Having reorganised his regular forces Allenby won the Third Battle of Gaza (October 31 - November 7, 1917) by surprising the defenders with an attack at Beersheba.

The victorious General Allenby dismounted, enters Jerusalem on foot out of respect for the Holy City, December 11, 1917
The victorious General Allenby dismounted, enters Jerusalem on foot out of respect for the Holy City, December 11, 1917

His force pushed on towards Jerusalem, the Ottomans were beaten at Junction Station (November 13-15) and Jerusalem was captured on December 9 1917.

Honouring Jerusalem on foot

Although he was a supreme master of cavalry horse warfare, before entering Jerusalem, Allenby dismounted and together with his officers, entered the city on foot through the Jaffa Gate out of his great respect for the status of Jerusalem as the Holy City important to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (see his proclamation of martial law below). He subsequently stated in his official report:

  • "...I entered the city officially at noon, December 11th, with a few of my staff, the commanders of the French and Italian detachments, the heads of the political missions, and the Military Attaches of France, Italy, and America.
  • The procession was all afoot, and at Jaffa gate I was received by the guards representing England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, India, France, and Italy. The population received me well..." (Source Records of the Great War, Vol. V, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923)

Middle East victory

The German offensive on the Western Front meant that Allenby was without reinforcements and after his forces failed to capture Amman in March and April 1918 he halted the offensive. New troops from the Empire (specifically Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa) led to the resumption of operations in August 1918. Following an extended series of deceptive moves the Ottoman line was broken at the Battle of Megiddo (September 19-21, 1918) and the Allied cavalry passed through and blocked the Turkish retreat. The EEF then advanced at an enormous rate, encountering minimal resistance, Damascus fell on October 1st, Homs on October 16, and Aleppo on October 25. Turkey capitulated on October 30 1918.


Allenby was made a Field Marshal in 1919 and on August 6 of that year was created Viscount Allenby, of Megiddo and of Felixstowe in the County of Suffolk. He remained in the Middle East as High Commissioner for Egypt and the Sudan until 1925 and he was instrumental in the creation of sovereign Egypt.

He retired in 1925 and died in London in 1936.

Jerusalem proclamation

Sir Edmund Allenby's official proclamation of martial law following the fall of Jerusalem, December 9 1917:

  • "To the Inhabitants of Jerusalem the Blessed and the People Dwelling in Its Vicinity:
  • The defeat inflicted upon the Turks by the troops under my command has resulted in the occupation of your city by my forces. I, therefore, here now proclaim it to be under martial law, under which form of administration it will remain so long as military considerations make necessary.
  • However, lest any of you be alarmed by reason of your experience at the hands of the enemy who has retired, I hereby inform you that it is my desire that every person pursue his lawful business without fear of interruption.
  • Furthermore, since your city is regarded with affection by the adherents of three of the great religions of mankind and its soil has been consecrated by the prayers and pilgrimages of multitudes of devout people of these three religions for many centuries, therefore, do I make it known to you 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 according to the existing customs and beliefs of those to whose faith they are sacred.
  • Guardians have been established at Bethlehem and on Rachel's Tomb. The tomb at Hebron has been placed under exclusive Moslem control.
  • The hereditary custodians at the gates of the Holy Sepulchre have been requested to take up their accustomed duties in remembrance of the magnanimous act of the Caliph Omar, who protected that church."

(Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. V, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923)

See also

Preceded by:
New Creation
Viscount Allenby Succeeded by:
Dudley Allenby
de:Edmund Allenby

he:אדמונד אלנבי


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