“Freedom, Freedom at last!”

The Reading soldier we heard from a few days home after the entry into Jerusalem wrote home again with his impressions of the city at the end of the Ottoman era.

MORE ABOUT JERUSALEM

By the kindness of our friends Mr and Mrs Ernest Francis we are enabled to give another extract from a letter recently received from their son Private E. Layton Francis, of the London Scottish Regiment. We feel sure it will prove interesting to many at Broad Street, where Private Layton Francis is so highly regarded.

Egyptian Expeditionary Force
17/12/17

It is most awfully interesting here, and the experience is worth much. There are all manner of conditions of men here – Natives who adhere to the customs and dress of our Lord’s time, Mahomedans [sic] of every description, and highly educated native Jews. One Jew told me he had lived in London and Cardiff for some years, and showed me his business cards. He was immensely relieved at our advance, and said we “kicked Johnny out like a football”. Another American Jew was overjoyed at seeing us, and he kept repeating “Freedom, Freedom at last!”

The building we are billeted in appears to have been built for a school. We are on the first floor. There are several small rooms opening on one side, and on the other side there is one tremendous window made up of small panes about one foot square. The weather is still very cold, but we have overcoats now, and so are better able to cope with it. This afternoon (18th December) I had the great privilege of going over the old “Holy City” of Jerusalem. I should explain that there is the New City of Jerusalem and the old Holy City.

The Holy City is surrounded by walls entirely, and entrance is through the various gates. We entered by the Jaffa gate, and passed through St Stephen’s Gate and saw several of the others. The first place of interest is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here is a slab of marble which is claimed to cover the spot where the body of Jesus laid before He was buried. Then there is the Hill Calvary, just outside the City walls. This is not a green hill, now at any rate, but is very stony, and it is quite a small hill too. The Garden of Gethsemane is full of cypress and olive trees, and is at the foot of the Mount of Olives, quite near to the city wall. The site of the Old Temple is located, but the Moslems have built a magnificent mosque almost on the spot. The mosque is the Mosque of St Omar [sic], and it is a most wonderful building, the base being of inlaid marble, and the rest beautiful mosaic work. The Jews will not walk on the site of the Temple as they believe the Ark of the Covenant to be buried there. But nearby is the “Jews’ wailing place”, a huge wall made up of the original stones of the Temple, and here every Sabbath the Jews pray for the restoration of the Temple, and of their land. Then there is the Golden Gate. This gate is entirely walled in, and the Jews believe it will not be opened until the Messiah comes.

The streets of Jerusalem are very narrow, the houses from the opposite sides almost touching one another. Many streets are like arcades, or to describe them better, like tunnels through solid stone. The shops are just holes in the side of the tunnel.

I must close now although there is much more to say – later on.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, Marc h1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

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